“I wonder what awaits us in this hike? Will anything new happen?”
– Zinaida “Zina” Kolmogorova
On January 27, 1959, a group of outdoor enthusiasts, known as “tourists” in Russia, consisting of seven men and two women, mostly students and graduates of the Ural Polytechnical Institute (which is now the Ural Federal University) left the village of Vizhay in the northern Ural Mountains on a two-week ski trek, through a region called Sverdlovsk Oblast, the “gateway to Siberia” in Russia. In Russia a “tourist” is a serious outdoorsperson. The goal was to reach Otorten Mountain at the end of their journey. Their planned route would rank as a “Category III,” the most difficult classification for a hiking expedition in winter, which if successful, would qualify them as “Masters of Sport.” On February 1st as they started to move through a mountain pass on their last leg of the trip, bad weather and decreasing visibility forced them off course, and the group decided to make camp on the eastern slope of a small mountain called Kholat Syakhl by the indigenous Mansi peoples, which translates to “Dead Mountain” due to the area’s lack of wild game. Sometime during the night of February 2nd, the group suffered an unimaginably terrifying ordeal, sealing their fate. When they hadn’t been heard from by February 20th, a search party was formed to look for the missing youths. On February 26th the search party reached their camp and what they found would bring more questions than answers. It appeared as though something had scared the hikers so badly, that they panicked and ripped a hole in the side of their tent in order to escape, shoeless, into – 20º F (-29º C) snowfall. It was determined by Soviet authorities that the group had met with a “compelling unknown force” causing them all to flee and ultimately die of exposure with some also suffering significant internal injuries such as broken ribs and fractured skulls. There have since been many theories put forth as to what this force actually was, but we may never know what was so horrific that it caused this group of experienced adventurers to take leave of their senses and take their chances in the deadly wilderness. Following the incident, the mountain pass was named “Dyatlov Pass” in honor of the group’s leader, Igor Dyatlov.
Dyatlov Pass, near Kholat Syakhl, Russia
Episode 23: “Dyatlov Pass Part 1” Produced by Scott Philbrook & Forrest Burgess; Ryan McCullough Sound Design; Research Assistance by Tess Pfeifle. Copyright Scott Philbrook & Forrest Burgess 2015, All Rights Reserved.