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Has The Dyatlov Pass Incident Been Solved? Theories About the Killed Hikers

When the Iron Curtain fell over Europe in the 1940s, news about what happened in the Soviet Union became veiled, hidden behind the communists’ propaganda and authoritarianism.

When the USSR finally dissolved in 1991, a constant stream of mysterious and bizarre events was slowly uncovered as the world began receiving news and researching documents from within the now-defunct nation. 

Photograph taken of the campsite of the Dyatlov Pass hikers. Image via NatGeo.

One of the most notorious stories to arise during the post-USSR period of discovery is the narrative of the Dyatlov Pass.

The incident involved a group of Soviet hikers who went missing in the Ural Mountains and were later found to have died from hypothermia and unexplained physical trauma. 

The official theory for their death is that an avalanche killed them.

But in the final report, the lead investigator ruled the hikers were overwhelmed by a natural force they could not overcome: a vague and menacing choice of wording that has captured the attention of millions around the globe.

The suspicious circumstances and decades of being hidden from the public have drawn immense attention to the tragedy and cast doubt on the official report.

In February of 1959, a group of Soviet hikers were killed in the northern Ural Mountains in what was ruled an unfortunate circumstance.

The group consisted of nine experienced hikers and skiers led by Ian Dyatlov of the Ural Polytechnic Institute, who were exploring a new path through the mountains.

On the night of February 1, the group pitched a tent on the side of what locals called “Death Mountain” and settled in for the night. That is when the mystery of what happened to the hikers begins.

Something inspired the hikers to slash their way out of the tent and make their way through the frigid night, with many of them wearing little more than underwear. Footprints showed the hikers moved towards the treeline before splitting up, after which they all perished.

The bodies were found scattered around the area near where they had pitched their tent, with six of them dying from hypothermia and three dying from physical trauma. 

Many of them suffered from broken bones or tissue damage, which was attributed to natural forces such as an avalanche and local wildlife. A few also suffered from inexplicable severe burns, while the clothing on some corpses was determined to have had high levels of radiation at one point.

The original investigator into the incident closed the case after determining there was no murder committed, instead noting that the hikers were killed by an “overwhelming force which they were not able to overcome.” 

This mysterious wording has inspired decades of conspiracy theories surrounding the incident and resulted in countless alternatives to what caused the missing hikers’ deaths.

The Avalanche Theory

The original theory to explain the hikers’ death was that they had been caught in an avalanche. Soviet officials posited that the hikers likely were sleeping in their tent when they heard the onset of the avalanche and quickly ran out without having time to put on proper clothing. 

Since they were all experienced hikers, it makes sense that only a situation as dire as an avalanche would compel them to wander into the frigid landscape, knowing they would risk hypothermia. In the dark, the hikers split into groups, fleeing into the woods where the avalanche would be slowed. 

The unfortunate souls that lost their lives in the bizarre disaster.

Some made a fire, some dug caves, and some attempted to return to the tent later and were frozen alive, buried in snow.

The blunt trauma certain victims faced was determined to be from the avalanche and debris, while burns attributed to fires that they set to keep warm.

After the incident came to light in the late 1980s, people immediately began doubting the original investigation’s results, eventually leading to officials revisiting the incident in 2015. The results of the 2015 investigation reasserted that it was likely that the hikers died from an avalanche. 

Scientists first set the scene by pointing out that the weather the night of the hiker’s disappearance was far colder, and the wind was far harsher than the original investigation had considered; by the time the bodies were originally found, the weather had become milder than it was the night of the incident.  

Investigators then claimed that in setting up the large tent the hikers may have disturbed the shelf of snow that it rested upon, leading it to later shift in the middle of the night. As the snow began to collapse the tent, the hikers fled to the treeline to avoid being buried. 

While some hikers set a fire to stay warm, the ones who were more well-dressed attempted to make their way back to the tent and perished of exhaustion along the way. 

Finally, the remaining hikers likely fell into a large pit that collapsed under their weight and then were buried again in snow, explaining the trauma to their bodies.

Contradictory Evidence Of The Avalanche Theory

A small mountain of evidence exists that contradicts the assertion that an avalanche killed the men though, which has led many to believe that the Dyatlov Pass mystery is still unsolved while also inviting conspiracy theories for why the Soviet government would cover up the incident for decades.

The first major contradiction theorists rely on is that there was no evidence of an avalanche in the immediate area surrounding the hikers. 

The high level of debris and destruction associated with avalanches was absent: the destruction near the treeline and damage to the hikers’ bodies was inconsistent with how an avalanche would behave. 

When the bodies were found, some hikers were found under a thin layer of snow that likely would have been deeper had an avalanche occurred, while other bodies would have likely been swept away. Even the trees were not damaged in a way consistent with what an avalanche would cause.

Map showing where Dyatlov pass is located via BBC.

Another suspicious circumstance is that investigators have been unable to recreate an avalanche in the region where the hikers went missing.

Over 100 expeditions have been conducted in the area since the men’s deaths, and none have been able to create any avalanche, let alone one that could have killed the hikers so drastically. 

Modern technologies have allowed scientists to create mock scenarios and test different conditions using historical data. The closest they have been able to get to recreating the Dyatlov Pass Incident was in a nearby area that experienced an avalanche in April when the snow was melting. 

But in February, when the hikers were hiking through the mountains, it should have been nearly impossible for an avalanche to occur. The hikers that were in the group were also very experienced and knowledgeable, so pitching their tent in the path of a potential avalanche was unlikely.

Finally, the story of the tent collapsing and the hikers running into the woods is inconsistent with the evidence. The tent collapsed from a side not facing the avalanche, contradicting the assertion that the wave of snow likely knocked it over. 

Also, the footprints leading from the tent to the woods did not indicate that the hikers were running, but calmly walking away from the tent, which would not have been the case if they anticipated an avalanche.

Other Theories For The Men’s Deaths

With all of this contradictory evidence, wild theories began to spring up about what happened to the men. One of the most absurd was that a Yeti, a large mythical creature similar to an ape, appeared to attack the men. 

Another explanation is that the hikers were driven to a panic-induced state by a specific pattern of wind blowing over the mountains, while yet another suggests that the hikers stripped their clothes in what is called “paradoxical undressing,” removing clothing in response to the burning sensation brought on by hypothermia.

Many believe that the hikers were subjected to the effects of a Soviet parachuting drill. Parachute mines detonate in mid-air, leaving few visible, external symptoms on their victims but causing internal trauma consistent with that found in the Dyatlov Pass victims.

This theory also aligns with reports that there were orange orbs in the sky in the area around Dyatlov Pass around the time the hikers went missing. 

Similarly, testing of bombs or other incendiary devices could explain the burns found on the victims and surrounding trees, as well as traces of radiation found on some of the victims’ clothing.

Since the incident was buried until the fall of the USSR, many believe these secret military tests may have killed the hikers and been covered up in the name of national security.

While the Dyatlov Pass Incident has been officially ruled an accident resulting from inexperienced hikers and an unfortunate avalanche, the contradictory evidence and Soviet practice of obfuscating such tragedies has inspired many to question the validity of the investigation.

Theories range from mythical creatures to military testing, but one thing is clear: the hikers who died at Dyatlov Pass will live on in infamy regardless of their true cause of death.


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