The Deadly Dyatlov Pass

Welcome back, friends! On this Weird Wednesday we are going to take a look at the enduring enigma of the Dyatlov Pass incident.

On Feb 1, 1959, nine young Soviet hikers died on Kholat Syakhl in the Ural Mountains. They were a group of experienced skiers led by 23-year-old student Igor Dyatlov. The group missed a planned check-in by telegram on Feb 12, and on Feb 26, searchers found the hikers’ camp in a very unexpected condition. The facts are as follows:

*The tent was partly covered in snow, and had been cut open from the inside

*The group’s shoes had been left in the tent

*Footprints led down to a nearby wood, where there were the remains of a fire and two bodies dressed only in underclothes.

*A nearby tree had broken branches, suggesting it had been climbed.

*Three other bodies were found nearby.

*The last four bodies were found in the spring, lying in a stream. Some of these were wearing clothes belonging to bodies that had been found undressed. These bodies had soft tissue damage to their faces.

*Some of the bodies had severe blunt-force trauma that likely killed them, and others apparently died from hypothermia

*There were no footprints from anyone outside the group

*One of the bodies had traces of radiation

*One witness at a funeral described the victims’ skin as being tanned

*Much later, witnesses reported that they saw mysterious lights in the sky on the night of the incident

In 2021, a study was published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment which showed that a slab avalanche was a probable explanation, and I believe this is the most likely theory. There are other somewhat plausible theories involving natural forces like katabatic winds and infrasound.

The photo at right is the tomb of the Dyatlov party at Mikhailovskoe Cemetery in Yekaterinburg, Russia. The photo at the top is of the tent as found by rescuers. 

However, as usual on Weird Wednesday, we are going to use reality as a starting point for creating fiction, and there is a lot to work with here. 

So here are some creepy-cold writing prompts!

  • A bad omen. Before we even get into the wild theories, it is worth noting that the group originally had ten members. One turned back because of knee pain that made it too difficult to hike. A fictional retelling could have this person having a prophetic dream of doom or fearing that the group or hike was cursed. Or your story could have them being warned away by someone. Who or what would make this group member believe the worst while the other nine were unconvinced?

  • As promised: wild theories! The first is secret weapons testing or military action. The idea is that the hikers ended up in what was supposed to be an unoccupied area being used by the military, and became accidental victims. One of the bodies apparently showed traces of radiation and some bodies were said to be tanned, so that might be a clue to what kind of weapon was used. But really any kind of experimental weapon could work. (It is worth noting that the tanned bodies have a natural explanation: mummification via exposure can cause skin to darken.) Or perhaps the hikers saw something they should not have seen and their deaths were not accidental at all.

  • Keep watching the skies! Obviously aliens are a favorite paranormal explanation for Dyatlov Pass. People reported seeing lights in the sky, and aliens could have unknown weapons that could cause disorientation, which could explain the group fleeing from their tent without their shoes. The aliens didn’t abduct anyone, so what they were up to is anyone’s guess. Your story could have aliens meeting hikers accidentally on a cold winter night and it goes downhill (so to speak) from there. If aliens were also killed that night, where would their bodies be?

  • Creature feature. You’ll have to ignore the fact that there were no animal footprints left, but one could create a mountain-dwelling cryptid (perhaps even the Abominable Snowman) who doesn’t like people camping on his mountain. Or maybe he likes it a little too much. What would happen if rescuers found the tent—and only the tent, beside the footprints of something monstrous?

  • Dark drama. The real Dyatlov Pass group got along well, by all reports. But one could plot out a disagreement that grows into epic proportions in the cold, snowy night, and leads to a violent end. There could be many possible triggers: a love triangle, an accidental injury, insufficient food or clothing, or getting lost.

  • A link in the chain. There are at least two similar events to Dyatlov Pass. The Chivruay Pass incident took place in 1973 in the Lovozero Massif mountain range and involved the deaths of ten hikers from hypothermia. The Hamar-Daban pass incident refers to the death of six of seven members of a hiking team from hypothermia in the Hamar-Daban mountain range in 1993. This could tie into the alien theory or the monsters, or it could be some sort of curse or other paranormal bad luck. Maybe an old legend warns of hikers staying on mountains on a certain night, or perhaps a ghost wanders the area, and those who see it are doomed to be lost.

Hope you enjoyed your Weird Wednesday in the mountains! Maybe this isn’t the best place to camp, though.

Want to chat about the blog? Did you use one of the prompts? Hit me up on social media.

If you like creepy mysteries in the snow, feel free to check out the anthology Queer Weird West Tales, which contains my story The Train Ticket: A man finds himself holding a train ticket to Hell after accidentally attempting to rob a ghost train.

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