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Two books on mysterious Dyatlov Pass Incident offer compelling information; theories

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
"Mountain of the Dead" by Keith McCloskey and "Dead Mountain" by Donnie Eichar are reviewed by Red Dirt Report.
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Dead Mountain: The Untold and True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident by Donnie Eichar (Chronicle Books) 2013

Mountain of the Dead: The Dyatlov Pass Incident by Keith McCloskey (The History Press) 2013

Let’s face it. Some mysteries endure. There are plenty to consider: The 1872 discovery of the “ghost ship” Mary Celeste. The eerie disappearance of “Flight 19” in 1945 over the waters off the Florida coast. And where the hell is that Malaysian airliner? That mystery is just a little over a month old and still hasn’t been solved.

One mystery that has only recently come to the attention of researchers in the West involves a decidedly disquieting incident in Cold War-era Soviet Union, involving the unexplained deaths of nine adventurous young people looking to earn their “Masters of Sport” certification by ski trekking approximately 200 miles into the rugged, remote northern Ural Mountains.

Called the “Dyatlov Pass Incident,” these young Soviet “tourists” were interested in making the most of the post-Stalin, Khrushchev-era “thaw” where the loosening of rules under the totalitarian regime allowed for young people to travel within the USSR.

That’s where you get 23-year-old trek leader Igor Dyatlov and nine other trekkers from Ural Polytechnic Institute in Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg) who wanted to make the trip to Mount Otorten (the name “Otorten” loosely translates as “don’t go there” in the language of the indigenous Mansi people who live in that area).

In late January 1959, Igor Dyatlov, a natural leader, led Yuri Doroshenko, Zinaida “Zina” Kolmogorova, Alexander Kolevatov, Alexander “Sasha” Zolotaryov, Lyuda Dubinina, Rustem Slobodin, Yuri “Georgy” Krivonishchenko, Nikolay Thibault-Brignoles and Yuri Yudin into the Russian wilderness and only Yudin survived only because he became ill early in the trip.

When the crew failed to show up at their scheduled time, a search party was sent and by the end of February, half the bodies were found with internal but few external injuries. A few months later the remaining members were found far from the tent – frozen to death, and with Dubinina missing her tongue.

And just as the Dyatlov Pass Incident has become more commonly known outside of Russia in the years since the Soviet Union fell, interest in the mystery and what caused the injuries to the hikers that led to their deaths on the slopes of the Urals’ Mount Kholat Syakhl (translating as “Mountain of the Dead”) just in sight of their destination has only increased.

So, it comes as no surprise that a small cottage industry has sprung up around the Dyatlov Pass Incident. I was told to “pass” on a recent sci-fi thriller called Devil’s Pass, based on the case.

Still, I was interested in reading more on this compelling mystery and so over a recent weekend read two books based on the case: Keith McCloskey’s Mountain of the Dead and Donnie Eichar’s Dead Mountain.

Both books clock in at over 200 pages and are both chock full of background information, details of the Dyatlov group’s journey by train, bus, truck and skis from Sverdlovsk city to the northwestern region of Sverdlovsk Oblast deep in the Urals in subzero temperatures.

In McCloskey’s book, various theories are offered are offered and examined. Among them are a Soviet missile exploded nearby, attack by local tribesmen or wild animals or even an attack by Siberian trolls or the “Yeti.” Many gulags were in the area and there was even a suggestion that escaped prisoners killed the campers.

McCloskey even addresses the issue of UFOs and “light orbs” that were reportedly seen by other hikers and denizens of that area. In fact, the final photo on Dyatlov’s camera is said to be an image of a strange light that could possibly be overexposed image. It’s never been thoroughly explained, however.

But the most fascinating theory offered in Mountain of the Dead actually has a possible tie-in to more recent events. McCloskey includes a tale spun by a bauxite mining foreman named Yury Yakimov who in 2002 had an unusual experience involving a light in the forest near one of the mine dumps outside the city of Severouralsk, approximately 100 miles south of the Dyatlov Pass.

Yakimov reports that when he would glance at the light source, which was projecting a light on the wall of the dump, smaller, “swinging” lights came out of the light source – he calls them “light sets” – and towards him, filling him with a  sense of anxiety and fear. When he would stop looking at the main light, the smaller lights retreated.

The experience had an affect on him. And then he soon learns that near the same time frame, a forest ranger in a region near him in Severouralsk had an almost identical experience with these strange lights that seemed to be searching for something. Yakimov offers a theory that the Dyatlov hikers had encountered this same light phenomenon at Dead Mountain and had panicked, running blindly in the snow and cold and ultimately succumbing to injuries inflicted on them by “infrasonic” pulse beams.

In Dead Mountain, meanwhile, the far more thoughtful and even self-deprecating author, Donnie Eichar, offers a far more readable book. Like McCloskey, he too went to Yekaterinburg to meet with the Dyatlov Memorial Foundation and even surviving team member Yuri Yudin.

And while he mentions the various theories of what caused the team to flee the safety of the tent and run out into the dark and deadly night without adequate clothing or even shoes, Eichar actually offers up a fascinating and scientifically-grounded theory that quite frankly makes the most sense to this reader. Eichar, an adventurous sort and insightful storyteller, more or less follows the route the Dyatlov team took back in ’59 all the way to where the torn tent and bodies were found in the desolate Ural highlands - amd in the dead of winter!

Yes, the Soviet government may have been testing secret technology in the northern Urals when the Dyatlov team died. Other technology was being developed and it was imperative the imperialist Americans not know about it. It was the Cold War after all and a fear of communism was at an all-time high. Information was hard to get in Soviet times and secrecy was encouraged. Misinformation and disinformation spread like wildfire, and as the old saying goes: “Why let the facts get in the way of a good story?”

And the current Russian government has the authority to reopen the case after all these years and offer a more definitive conclusion as to what led to the deaths of these fine young people whose puzzling deaths continue to perplex people in Russia and beyond.

Of the two Dyatlov Pass Incident books, Donnie Eichar’s Dead Mountain is the more reputable and readable of the two. I will admit to being fascinated by McCloskey’s inclusion of Yury Yakimov’s “light set” tale. Something tells me there is more going on in the remote Urals than meets the eye and that it may have a connection to a 55-year old mystery.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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