In February 1959, a party of expert hikers went missing while walking over western Siberia’s Ural Mountains.
The image was so awful and perplexing when the search team eventually located the remains of the missing hikers in the Ural Mountains that it would serve as the basis for conspiracy theories for years to come.
Frozen cadavers unexplained wounds and missing body parts. Unusual radiation levels.
Each new finding raised more questions than it answered.
Nine inexperienced but youthful hikers were killed in 1959 on the western Siberian slopes of Dead Mountain.
Warning: This article contains details readers might find distressing.
The catastrophe has been examined and discussed for years by academics, amateur investigators, and the media.
Everyone had different theories about what had occurred to them, including murder, a Soviet military experiment, and even a yeti.
However, two academics who used technologies adapted from the Frozen animators may have found the answer after 63 years.
There is only one issue.
Not everybody agrees with their theory.
The torn tent
The search crew was still holding out hope that the hikers may be discovered alive when they left in late February of 1959.
Even though they took eight days longer than expected to return from their journey, delays are usual in the arduous Urals.
Additionally, all nine participants of the trip, who were largely young college students in their 20s, had advanced cross-country skiing skills.
The search team ascended the slopes of Kholat Syakhl, also known as Dead Mountain in the Mansi language of the Ural region.
The hikers died at what is today known as the Dyatlov Pass.
They realized things had gone wrong there.
They discovered a tent that had been slit open from the inside and immediately abandoned.
“The tent was partially pulled down and coated with snow,” recalls one of the rescuers, Mikhail Sharan.
All of the group’s belongings and shoes were missing, and the place was empty.
Several pairs of tracks were discovered in the heavy snow, but they vanished mere meters from the tent.
What could have compelled nine seasoned winter campers to exit their shelter in socks or bare feet into the dark, frigid night?
In the Siberian mountain range, the wintertime lows reached -30C.
As night fell and the hikers were still missing, the rescuers established camp and distributed a flask of vodka they had found in the broken-down tent.
A toast to the well-being of the missing hikers was made by one of the rescuers.
One of the guys turned to me just as we were ready to drink it, Mr. Sharavin subsequently told the BBC.
Best not drink to their health, but rather to their eternal peace, he advised.
The horrific finds in the snow
The search team quickly learned that the hikers had tragically perished on the slope.
About 1.5 kilometers from the tent, at the edge of a forest
The young lads had only on their underwear when they passed away from hypothermia.
Strangely, five meters up the trunk, the branches of a neighboring tree had been shattered.
Had they ascended it to obtain a better view of the area? or to get away from something?
On their hands, they both looked to have burned.
Between the forest and the tent, the bodies of three more hikers — group leader Igor Dyatlov, Zinaida Kolmogorova, and Rustem Slobodin — were discovered strewn about in the snow.
The trio looked to have also perished from hypothermia, although Rustem’s skull had a little break, according to the coroner.
It would be months before the four remaining hikers’ remains were discovered when melting snow revealed their position.
The mystery was only made more complex by the state of the bones.
At the bottom of a valley, in a stream of moving water, all four were discovered.
They had undoubtedly perished violently and brutally.
Skull damage caused by Nikolai Thibeaux-Brignolles led to his demise.
Both the group’s youngest member, Lyudmila Dubinina, age 20, and its oldest, Semyon Zolotaryov, age 38, suffered shattered ribs and significant chest injuries.
Both of them lacked eyes, and Lyudimila’s tongue was missing.
Aleksandr Kolevatov’s eyebrows were gone, and his neck was twisted.
According to documents leaked to Russian media, a doctor who examined the remains claimed the force of whatever struck them “was similar to the effect of a car crash.”
The Soviet Union announced that the hikers were slain by “an overwhelming force of nature” some months after they discovered the surviving bodies.
As practically all domestic affairs were in Soviet-era Russia, the probe was concluded and declared top secret.
However, that didn’t stop the tragedy from becoming one of the country’s longest-running and most contentious mysteries.
Who or what killed the hikers?
While many experts agreed that an avalanche was the most likely cause, the first study created more questions than answers.
According to an assessment of the region, the spot where they set the tent appeared unlikely to be avalanche terrain.
There were no patterns in the snow surrounding the abandoned tent to indicate a blizzard had gone through.
Conspiracy theories began to grow as the Soviet Union remained tight-lipped about its inquiry.
Some of the more bizarre hypotheses, such as a botched extraterrestrial abduction, an attack by a mythological yeti, or a change in gravity, were simpler to dismiss.
Even the most feasible explanations, however, did not appear to fit the facts.
In her book Don’t Go There, Russian investigative journalist Svetlana Oss claimed that local hunters murdered the hikers while high on psychedelic mushrooms.
A Russian news outlet speculated that everything was not well within the gang. Perhaps one hiker became enraged and turned on the others?
However, the coroner stated that no human being would have the strength to inflict the injuries he discovered on their corpses.
With the Soviet Union embroiled in a cold war with the West, suspicions grew that the young hikers had been subjected to a military test.
In this scenario, USSR soldiers were testing weaponry in the distant Urals as locals on the Dead Mountain slopes slept.
Some specialists speculated that a test involving radioactive weapons may explain the burns on some of the victims as well as the radioactivity on their belongings.
Others, however, suggested that they may have burnt themselves when attempting to make a fire in the forest to stay warm after abandoning the tent.
The presence of the chemical thorium in their gas lamps might explain the poisoning of their garments.
Parachute mines, which burst in the air, have been linked to the hikers’ horrific inside injuries.
Yuri Yudin was the most outspoken supporter of the parachute mine theory.
The hikers were initially a group of ten when they headed out.
However, Yuri had to turn around five days before danger hit because his long-term joint problems flared up in the snow.
Yuri, who passed away in 2013, believed that his companions were inadvertently killed by strong weaponry.
The notion of the delayed slab avalanche
Two Swiss experts gathered in 2019 to attempt to solve the puzzle using computer simulations and documents that were eventually made public after the demise of the USSR.
Despite its evident shortcomings, the avalanche idea continued to seem the most likely to snow experts Johan Gaume and Alexander Puzrin.
They started by addressing the slope’s angle, where the hikers’ tent was set up.
Many detractors of the avalanche idea said that the slope of Dead Mountain was simply too moderate for snow to fall at any speed.
But the researchers found that the Dead Mountain’s undulating slope was just 30 degrees steep enough for an avalanche to happen.
The hikers dug into the side of the slope to shield themselves and the tent from the wind that night, which may have sealed their doom.
However, they might have caused an underlying snow layer on the mountainside to become unstable in the process.
It wouldn’t have occurred right away.
A snow slab roughly five meters wide could have been hurled towards them after they finished their last meal and went to bed together.
It was then up to Professors Puzrin and Gaume to calculate how quickly the frozen slab of the material may slide down the slope.
Disney provided the animation codes that were utilized to make the snow in the 2013 film Frozen appear so lifelike to the researchers.
With the force of a four-wheel drive, the snow slab would have struck the hikers, breaking ribs and skulls and forcing the group to escape for cover in the forest, according to their simulation.
They discovered evidence in January 2021 that two slab avalanches had just happened on the slope where the trekkers perished.
Within hours, the slabs, which had been battered by strong winds, were “practically unnoticeable.”
The search crew needed three weeks to locate the tent in 1959, which was more than enough time for roaring winds to erase all evidence of what had happened.
Was the mystery resolved by science?
The hikers may have ripped open the tent and escaped without putting on their shoes or outerwear if there was a snow slab nearby.
Perhaps they attempted to start a fire at the edge of the woodland but were unsuccessful.
They would have realized they were in serious trouble at that point.
As several hikers attempted to find their way back to the camp to retrieve their possessions, the group eventually split up.
They quickly became separated from one another in the pitch-black night due to limited vision, and eventually perished from the cold.
The four remaining hikers became lost in the woods before they perished in the ravine.
They may have been eaten by scavengers or had their missing body parts washed away by the creek below them.
It’s a neat answer to a long-standing mystery: Sometimes the forces of nature are just too strong for people to withstand.