It sounds like something out of the X-Files – or at least, a low-budget Soviet knockoff of the X-Files. Ten intrepid youths set out to cross the Ural Mountains on cross country skis in early 1959. One falls ill in turns back early; he little suspects, at the time, that this would save his life. The nine remaining skiers press on. And something weird – to this day, utterly inexplicable – happens.
The nine skiers,
led by a man named Igor Dyatlov — headed to a
slope called Kholat Syakhl (Mansi language for “Mountain of the Dead,”
ahem) for a rugged, wintry trek. On their way up, they are apparently
hit by inclement weather and veer off course and decide to set up camp
and wait it out. All is calm. All is fine and good. They even take pictures of camp, the scenery, each other. The weather is not so bad. They go to sleep.
Then, something happens. In the middle of the night all nine
suddenly leap out of their tents as fast as possible, ripping them open
from the inside (not even enough time to untie the doors) and race out
into the sub-zero temps, without coats or boots or skis, most in their
underwear, some even barefoot or with a single sock or boot. It is 30
degrees below zero, Celsius. A few make it as far as a kilometer and a
half down the slope. All nine, as you might expect, quickly die.
Okay, you might say, that is odd, but surely there must be a logical explanation. But there aren’t any easy answers – and the story gets even more bizarre. Mark Morford of the San Francisco Chronicle continues:
The three-month investigation revealed that five of the trekkers
died from simple hypothermia, with no apparent trauma at all, no signs
of attack, struggle, no outward injuries of any kind. However, two of
the other four apparently suffered massive internal traumas to the
chest, like you would if you were hit by a car. One’s skull was
crushed. All four of these were found far from the other five. But
still, no signs of external injuries.
Not good enough? How about this: One of the women was missing her tongue.
Oh, it gets better. And weirder.
Tests of the few scraps of clothing revealed very high levels of
radiation. Evidence found at the campsite indicates the trekkers
might’ve been blinded. Eyewitnesses around the area report seeing
“bright flying spheres” in the sky during the same months. And oh yes,
relatives at the funeral swear the skin of their dead loved ones was
tanned, tinted dark orange or brown. And their hair had all turned
The final, official explanation as to what caused such bizarre
behavior from otherwise well-trained, experienced mountaineers? An
“unknown compelling force.” Indeed.
There’s only one word for this: unnerving. We’ll probably never know what happened on that mountain 51 years ago. The real explanation might even be mundane – but that won’t stop the story from raising hackles or stealing sleep.
The mountain in question, of course, was renamed Dyatlov Pass.