I feel that this can safely be ruled out. Though some people attribute the fact that some of the tourists were wearing very little clothing to paradoxical undressing, it is fairly easy to disprove that in this case. Paradoxical undressing occurs when a body is undergoing hypothermia. The body, sensing that it is close to death, goes into self-preservation mode and uses muscles to restrict blood flow to extremities in order to keep the body’s core warmer. Eventually the muscles that have been restricting blood flow become exhausted, and as a result a great deal of blood suddenly rushes to the extremities. This can make the person feel overheated, and so they take off their clothes. This can also make them feel disoriented.
While it is true that some of the tourists – Krivonischenko and Doroshenko, for example – were found wearing very little clothes, the others were not. In fact, Krivonischenko and Doroshenko’s clothes ended up on the other tourists, sometimes removed with the help of a knife. This suggests that not only were the tourists not taking off their clothes, they were taking clothes from their deceased comrades to try and keep themselves warm.
This is a very common theory that inevitably will come up when discussing the Dyatlov Pass incident. In fact, some people swear by this theory and look for no further explanation. In part, it does make a certain amount of sense. The avalanche that is suggested as being the cause of the Dyatlov group’s flight is not the giant, earth-shattering event that I had imagined upon first hearing this explanation, but rather a smaller avalanche, sometimes referred to as a “snow-slip.” This is where just a small amount of snow moves; packed tightly, even a small amount can do a great deal of damage. It would have been enough to frighten the hikers and possibly injure them as well. It would certainly explain why they fled their tent in such haste, without bothering to get dressed or even put on their shoes. But then this theory starts to lose steam, in my opinion.
First of all, if the tourists’ injuries had been caused by an avalanche, as some have suggested, they would have been severely incapacitated right away. Thibeaux-Brignolles’ skull was crushed severely, and he would have either died on impact or been rendered unconscious. Zolotarev probably could have continued for a while with his broken ribs, but Dubanina’s injuries were so severe that most experts who have viewed the reports agree that she could have only lived for 10-20 minutes after sustaining them. One of her ribs had pierced her heart; she was obviously in a great deal of pain.
Second of all, the tourists walked down the mountain in a rather orderly fashion. Walked, not ran. Thanks to the strange weather of the day – a significant fallout of loose, fluffy snow; a short-term thaw with temperatures close to the snow melting point; a certain wind velocity; and a drop of temperature after the thaw – the hikers’ footprints had been persevered for several weeks, long enough that they were still very clear when the search teams found them. These tracks clearly indicate that the hikers left the tent in an orderly fashion, walking and not running.
Third, there was absolutely no sign of an avalanche. The tent was still firmly secured to the ground and, other than snowfall on top that had caused the center of the tent to collapse, it was quite the way it had been left. Nothing had toppled over inside the tent or was scattered, the way one would expect had an avalanche occurred.
So perhaps there was no avalanche, but the tourists thought there was going to be one? The wind howling in the mountains could be deceptive, after all. If this were so, however, then upon realizing their mistake why didn’t they return to the tent? Why did they go so far away? On top of all that, it is interesting to note that the tourists with the worst injuries appear to be the last to die. I feel like that is fairly telling evidence against the avalanche theory. Additionally, experts have studied the topography and have said that, while an avalanche on Elevation 1079 is not impossible, it would be highly unlikely.
A military incident (attack or accident)
This is another widely-believed theory, but also another one that doesn’t quite fit. There were many reports around the time of the Dyatlov group’s deaths of strange lights in the sky, flying and orange. Many claim that these flying orbs were somehow to blame for what befell the Dyatlov group. They were reported on February 17 and again on March 31. I would like to point out that these sightings took place after the death of Dyatlov and his comrades. There were – and still are – rumors that the “fireballs” were seen on the same night that the Dyatlov group met their demise. Another group from the UPI, led by a man named Shumkov, claimed to have seen them that same night. Upon investigation, it was discovered that the Shumkov group had not even left on their hike until after February 1/2, when Dyatlov’s group died. Additionally, E. Buyanov found a direct link with two R-7 combat missile launches from Tyuratam to the Kura target field in Kamchatka. The timing of these launches was the exact same as when “fireballs” were reported in the sky above the Urals.
Now this is the Soviet Union that we’re talking about, so it’s definitely not impossible that the government was testing out some sort of weapon – nuclear or otherwise – under the radar, without going through the necessary channels and without anyone else knowing about it. But the truth is, they already had designated areas where these sorts of secret tests were carried out. Additionally, this was a time, known as the “thaw,” where the repressed Soviets were finally able to throw off the stiff oppression of Stalin’s rule. With Stalin’s death, things like art and poetry and sports became big among the people – especially the young people. Tourism was huge at the time. And the word tourism in 1959 Russia did not mean the same thing that it means today in America. Tourists were essentially adventurers, exploring and mapping the unknown reaches of their country. They were tough people; they had to be to survive. And in 1959, during the midst of this “thaw” of Stalinist repression, the Ural Mountains were literally crawling with these tourists. There were at least three other groups from UPI in the Urals that winter – possibly several more. Why would the Soviet Union choose to test weapons – or anything else, for that matter – in a location with a high tourist traffic?
On an interesting note, the lead investigator of the case, Lev Ivanov, gave an interview in the 1990s, once he was no longer sworn to secrecy, stating that he believed the orbs had a direct correlation with the deaths of the tourists. He also mentioned that the Soviet Union forced him to remove all references to the unknown flying objects – and any other strange phenomenon – from his official report.
Infrasound (natural as opposed to weapon)
I came across this theory while reading what I have come to think of as the best of the English books regarding the Dyatlov Pass incident (‘Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident’ by Donnie Eichar). This theory posits that infrasound – not as a weapon but as an act of nature – was what caused the tourists to go running from their tent that night. While he obviously put a great deal of research into his investigation, going so far as to consulting with specialists in this field, it doesn’t explain everything. According to the specialists that Eichar consulted, the dome-shaped Elevation 1097 is perfect for producing what is known as a Karmen Vortex Street, which is essentially a natural infrasound phenomenon that can cause very real physical side effects: uneasiness, nausea, and even downright panic and hysteria. This would explain why the group cut their way out of the tent and didn’t stop to put on warm clothes or shoes. It does not, however, explain why the tourists walked down the slope as opposed to ran. If they were really in the midst of some sort of hysteria, it is likely that they would have taken off running, fleeing in many different directions.
This theory also suggests that the tourists sustained their injuries by falling into the ravine. I’m no medical expert, but I – and many who are medical experts – find it difficult to attribute these types of injuries to a fall. It does explain why only the people in the ravine had such severe injuries, but those types of injuries are not likely to be incurred by a fall. For one thing, a fall into a ravine with enough force to crack ribs and shatter Thibeaux-Brignolles’ skull would surely leave behind some kind of external mark, and yet there was none. The injuries were solely internal. For another, the injuries sustained by Dubanina and Zolotarev were described as having not been caused by a single event. Perhaps they bounced as they fell down the ravine? Possible, but, with the absence of external marks, highly unlikely – I’d go so far as to say nearly impossible. In addition, Kolevatov, the fourth tourist found in the ravine, was not inured like the others. Perhaps the others fell and he did not? Or maybe he fell on top of one of the others, softening the blow for himself and further injuring the other?
A most telling note to this theory is that, when people fall, unless they are unconscious, it is a natural instinct to raise your arms to try and stop your fall. So, unless Dubanina, Thibeaux-Brignolles, and Zolotarev were already unconscious at the time of their fall, they would most likely have sustained some sort of arm injury. But none of them did, which indicated that they did not raise their arms to try and stop their fall. And if they were unconscious before they fell, it would indicate that someone had thrown or pushed them into the ravine.
While I think that this is the most probable of all the theories I’ve come across, there are still a few pieces that just don’t quite fit the puzzle.
Mansi tribesmen or escaped prisoners
Initially, investigators were highly suspicious of a local indigenous tribe called the Mansi, who had given Elevation 1079 the ominous name Kholat Syakhl, or Mountain of the Dead. It was suggested that perhaps the tourists had mistakenly wandered onto some sacred ground or that they had offended the Mansi in some way. It’s pretty obvious to most people – the investigators included, as they quickly dropped this lead – that this wasn’t probable. The Mansi are by nature a friendly people. Despite having more and more of their native land taken, they would, in general, be a hundred times more likely to help someone they found on the mountain rather than kill them. And there were no native places nearby that held any sort of sacred meaning for the Mansi. While most people still think that Kholat Syakhl is considered cursed by the Mansi, this is not the case at all. The mountain is in no way sacred or cursed, and the Mansi do not and never did regard it as such. In fact, one native of Vizhay, Vladimir Androsov, said in a 2011-2012 interview, “I do not know what you are reading, but I repeat that, except for the Dyatlov group and a man that disappeared in 1972 on Lenchi-Syahl, no one had ever been lost in our area. In 1970, two unregistered tourists appeared lost, but then they encountered the Mansi who grazed deer in the mountains. Only one soldier died on Mt. Chistop; he went into the forest and got lost.” Once it became clear the Mansi were not likely involved – not to mention that it was discovered that the tourists cut their way out of the tent rather than someone cutting their way in – this train of thought was dropped by official investigators.
Another suggestion is that prisoners from one of the nearby gulags had escaped and murdered the tourists. Gulags were prison camps that were pretty big during Stalin’s rule, and they were definitely nasty places. By 1959, the use of gulags had diminished, but there were still functioning camps. Still, the closest gulag to Elevation 1079 was in Vizhay, and that was quite a distance away. It wouldn’t have made any sense for someone escaping from a gulag to run to certain death in the frozen taiga and mountains. And no prisoners were reported missing during this time. This doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen, but nothing was reported.
The most telling evidence against this theory is that there was absolutely no trace of outsiders present at the site. There were no footprints from anyone other than those of the tourists. Nothing unaccounted for had been found. Certain reports claim that there was an extra pair of glasses and a pair of socks that nobody recognized, but that’s only logical. Yuri Yudin had been brought in to identify everyone’s belongings, which he did to the best of his ability, but he was a grieving young man and he couldn’t be expected to recall every single thing his friends had brought with them. Additionally, nothing from the tent was taken. Their food, money, clothes, and important documents were all recovered – save for a diary belonging to Kolevatov that Yuri Yudin distinctly remembered Kolevatov bringing on the trip.
Murdered for witnessing something they weren’t supposed to
Even now, decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, people are highly distrustful of it. I wasn’t taught much about it in school, I must admit, but even so, I instinctively disliked it. Perhaps I was subconsciously picking up on all the distrust of my parents’ generation? I’m not sure. But in any case, people had cause to distrust the Soviet Union. It was a government that was willing to lie and murder to achieve their goals. A lot of people – myself included – don’t put it past them to have murdered a group of tourists simply for seeing something they shouldn’t have. But I’ll repeat what I said earlier in the section regarding a military accident or secret test: why would the Soviet Union have something they didn’t want people to see out in a place where people were expected to be? Not only were the Urals crawling with tourists that winter, but Dyatlov had registered their trip with the Sverdlovsk Tourist Club – they had to in order to receive the proper documentation. So the government knew exactly where the Dyatlov group was going to be. It’s true that the group deviated a bit from their intended route by missing the pass between Elevations 1079 and 880 (as Elevation 880 was incorrectly labeled at the time), but they wouldn’t have deviated enough to make a difference in this case.
While it seems unlikely that the government murdered the tourists, the injuries Dubanina, Zolotarev, and Thibeaux-Brignolles sustained could be explained by the presence of another human being. Which brings me to my next theory.
KGB undercover spies
Zolotarev is understandably the most mysterious member of the Dyatlov group. He was older than anyone by a good ten years, and, unlike the others, he had no ties to UPI. He had been scheduled to travel with a different group but had switched to Dyatlov’s expedition at the last minute. The reason he gave was that he wanted to go visit his sick mother and the first group’s itinerary didn’t suit him. But this first group’s itinerary was only different by a few days, and that difference became even less once Dyatlov pushed back their return to Vizhay from February 12 to February 14. He probably would have seen his mother about the same time regardless of which expedition he joined. It has been suggested that Zolotarev was a secret KGB agent – he had been in the military for several years, after all – and that he had switched to Dyatlov’s expedition in order to get to a specific location in the Urals. Perhaps he even purposefully missed the pass between Elevations 1079 and 880 in order to get where he needed to be.
According to this theory, Zolotarev was supposed to pose as a spy for the Americans, feeding false information about the Soviet Union to U.S. agents he met in the Urals. It is even suggested that Krivonischenko or Kolevatov – or even both – was in on the plan. Krivonischenko worked at Chelyabinsk-40, and Kolevatov had left a cushy position at a secret laboratory in Moscow to move to Sverdlovsk and attend UPI. From what I understand, in 1959, Moscow was the place to be. It was like an elite club that nobody was allowed into. You had to be born into it. Very few people managed to move there from outside. Kolevatov was one of the few who did. People point out how illogical it was for him to have achieved this great position in a great city and then leave it all behind to be just like everybody else.
So Zolotarev – and possibly Krivonishenko and/or Kolevatov – met up with U.S. spies in the Urals, near or on Elevation 1079. Supposedly Zolotarev was in possession of another camera – one that was never reported and which, some people claim, you can see on a photograph of Zolotarev’s corpse – with which he was supposed to take discreet photographs of the U.S. spies for proof and then he was supposed to leave this camera in a designated place on the mountain for KGB officials to reclaim and make use of. Somewhere during this exchange of information and secret photographs, the U.S. spies got suspicious. They waited until the Dyatlov group was settled into their tent for the night, eating dinner, to get rid of them. They ordered the group to march into the wilderness, expecting them to freeze to death. When it became clear that not everyone was so easily succumbing to hypothermia, they had to get rid of the remaining tourists themselves.
Krivonischenko was found with a foamy discharge from his mouth, which can be caused by a pressure to the chest cavity. Apparently this is a torture method widely-used among military units around the world. I’m led to believe that it’s also possible to break ribs and crush skulls without leaving external traces – something secret agents would most likely be trained in. Then they buried those with the most distinct injuries under the snow, hoping that it would take longer to discover these bodies and that by the time they were found decomposition would mask the presence of an outsider.
This is an incredibly interesting and well thought out theory, but again it’s not one I believe. There just wasn’t any sign of anyone else present at the campsite and surrounding areas. Some have suggested that the spies cleaned up after themselves, removing their footprints and any sign that they had ever been there. But why would they painstakingly remove their own footprints but leave behind those of the tourists? In fact, why would they have left the bodies at all? People disappear all the time without a trace; leaving behind damning evidence seems unlikely.
A fight between the tourists themselves
Honestly, I feel like this theory is downright insulting to the memory of the tourists, but it’s a theory nonetheless so I’m presenting it to you. These nine men and women were incredibly hardworking and intelligent. They had a goal: they wanted to obtain their level III certification, which was the highest level of difficulty in ski tourism and which would enable them to train others. Despite being young, they were all intelligent, mature, and logical. Both Dubanina and Kolmogorova were verified as not being sexually active at the time of their deaths when examined post-mortem. Yuri Yudin also maintained that all of the tourists were virgins and did not drink – although if he was including the unfamiliar Zolotarev in this general statement is unknown but unlikely, as Zolotarev was nearly 40 at the time of the incident.
Some suggest that a love triangle – or even quadrangle – revolved around Kolmogorova. She had previously dated Doroshenko and the events surrounding their break up are unknown, though it is said they were on amicable terms afterwards. It had also been rumored that she was romantically involved with Dyatlov. Somewhere along the way, it has been suggested that Zolotarev liked her as well. Aside from Kolmogorova’s previous relationship with Doroshenko, everything else is speculation.
Another theory is that Krivonischenko started a fight. He was known to have a short fuse and a hot temper, after all. On their first night sleeping in the tent, the group unanimously elected him to sleep by the stove – without consulting him on the matter. While one might think that sleeping next to the stove would be ideal, it was far from it. The stove got unbearably hot, and sleeping next to it would have been miserable. Krivonischenko got so angry at being forced to sleep next to the stove that he caused quite a scene, claiming the others had “betrayed” him. He mouthed off about it for quite some time afterwards, preventing the others from getting to sleep. This was written about in their journals.
But even if a fight had broken out over Kolmogorova – highly unlikely – or because of Krivonischenko’s temper, it is unlikely that they would have cut their way out of the tent. It is even more unlikely that all nine of them would have gone outside, away from the tent, without getting dressed. Even if one or two had stormed out into the night in nothing but their underwear, the others would have had the sense to put on their warm clothes and go through the front of the tent to go looking for them. These people were intelligent, not stupid.
Attacked by wild animals
Bears hibernate during the winter; this is fairly common knowledge. When they go into this deep sleep, the body slows down its metabolism. This is a survival technique for when food is scarce, usually during the winter months. In some places where food is plentiful during the winter, a bear can wake from this hibernation. Sometimes, if there is enough food, the bear doesn’t hibernate at all and can be quite active in the winter. So it is possible that there was a bear roaming around the Urals in the winter of 1959. And wolves are definitely winter hunters who have been known to spread out their hunting ground when food becomes scarce.
That being said, there is really nothing at all to suggest that any animals were present and attacked the Dyatlov group. There was absolutely no sign of any animal being there, and, more specifically, none of the injuries found on the victims would have been caused by an animal of any kind.
I’m going to be honest – I don’t know the first thing about UFOs. While I definitely think that there are other intelligent life forms somewhere out there in the infinite number of universes – perhaps even some with technology advanced enough to penetrate our galaxy – I don’t believe any of them would choose to stop on our planet. I think the chance of aliens being involved in the Dyatlov incident is highly unlikely. I won’t go as far as to say impossible, but I’m not really one who goes for the alien conspiracy theories.
Many people use the sightings of “fireballs” in the sky during February and March of 1959 as “evidence” that aliens were involved. As I reported in an earlier section, the “fireballs” were adequately explained by the launches of test missiles and had nothing to do with aliens. I’m sure any hard-core alien enthusiast might point out: “But what if the government lied about the test launches to cover up the alien activity?” I suppose I have no good answer for that other than that I think this seems unlikely.
There was a small amount of radiation discovered on the clothes of some of the tourists. Some people claim that this could have come from aliens. The radiation found, which, at the time, was considered to be much higher than normal, is now considered to be well within the normal realms by modern-day scientists. The small amount of radiation, while confusing, would have in no way affected the tourists’ health. Yuri Yudin, when asked about the traces of radiation found, explained that the lanterns they used emitted a small amount of radiation that could explain the remnants found on clothes. Although I find this explanation more than a little lacking, I find it more believable than alien involvement.
I read a fictionalized version of the incident that revolved around the alien involvement theory that was quite entertaining – in fact, I couldn’t put the book down – but that doesn’t mean I believe it. I feel like this theory is more grasping at straws, trying to find any sort of explanation for the inexplicable.
The tourists, on their last day alive, made a joke newspaper called “The Evening Otorten.” This was probably a reference to a newspaper that was popular at the time that could be compared to the tabloids of today. In their homemade newspaper, there was a comment that claimed, “We now know that Snowmen exist.”
Some take this to the extreme and suggest that the group had actually seen an abominable snowman or yeti in the Urals. I think that this is probably stretching the comment quite a lot. Taking into consideration the other articles in the newspaper – which included an update on the time record for assembling the portable stove, among others – it’s pretty clear that this newspaper was all in good fun. They were happy, they were healthy, and they were having a good time. Maybe they had been discussing the legend of the yeti – they hadn’t brought a radio and they had left Slobodin’s mandolin back at the cache, so their only form of entertainment would have been good old fashioned debate and discussion – and it was just a good joke. Or maybe they were referring to themselves as the snowmen. If you have seen any of the photographs taken on the expedition, they have snow and ice in their hair and facial hair. Referring to themselves as snowmen would have been quite a good laugh for them.
If you want to take this theory seriously, I will also point out the lack of footprints or any sign of an animal attack.
The Golden Lady
This is not a very common theory, but I find it interesting and creative.
The first reports of the Golden Lady were found in the 14th century Novgorod Chronicles. She was reported as being a Madonna-like idol found in Yugria, near Ob. Reports from the time claimed that Obians and Yugrans worshipped her. She was consulted by priests as to what they needed to do spiritually, and she would answer. It was believed that the idol was kept in a secret glade in the Ural Mountains, guarded by hereditary guardians who wore red and delivered the people’s offerings to her. Only the guardians and the priests were allowed to view the idol.
Many people now – I don’t know if this is a belief shared by our ancestors – think that the Golden Lady was a physical representation of the Mansi goddess Kaltesh, who is mother earth and the wife of the Mansi god Nuri-Turum. Legend has it that she needed to defend herself from hostile entities – the legend does not make it clear if these entities were spiritual or physical – and so her husband Nuri-Turum created for her the menkvi. Menkvi are supernatural werewolves, said to have survived from the great flood of biblical times.
In this theory, the Dyatlov group stumbled across the secret glade where the Golden Lady still remained and viewed the forbidden idol, therefore sentencing themselves to death. The menkvi would have scared the tourists from their tent, and either the menkvi or Kaltesh herself would have injured them – probably supernaturally.
I don’t believe that the Golden Lady killed the Dyatlov tourists, but I do find it an interesting story. But again I would point out that the tourists walked instead of ran away from the tent; additionally, there were no footprints of outsiders, human or beast.
A fire from the homemade stove
The stove that the group used on their expedition had been designed and crafted a few years before by Dyatlov himself, and I suppose this would be a decent enough theory as to why the tourists cleared the tent except that there was absolutely no sign of fire. Nothing in the tent had been burned. Some articles of clothing, as well as Krivonischenko and Doroshenko, had some burns on them, but these are easily explained as having gotten too close to the fire down at the cedar tree. Additionally, the stove was neatly packed away and there was only one piece of firewood, so the tourists had not intended to light a fire on the slope of Elevation 1079. This theory is easily discounted and is most often excluded from lists due to lack of evidence.