The Expedition

January 23, 1959: The Ural Polytechnic Institute (UPI) has had a long and illustrious history. It was founded in 1920 in what was then Yekaterinburg, named after Peter the Great’s wife. When the Soviets came to power, they wanted to distance themselves from the westernization brought about by Peter the Great, so from 1924-1991, Yekaterinburg was renamed Sverdlovsk. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, it reverted back to Yekaterinburg. The UPI, in turn, also went through many changes. It became the Ural State Technical University in later years. In 2008, it was renamed the Yeltsin Ural State Technical University, after Boris Yeltsin, an alumni and the President of Russia from 1991-1999. In 2010, the USTU merged with the Ural State University to become the Ural Federal University.

But when a group of nine skiers gathered in dormitory room 531 in 1959, it was very proudly the UPI in Sverdlovsk, a central hub of engineering and manufacturing. The tourists were probably caught up in the excitement and frustration that comes from preparing for a big trip – their trek would last some 350 kilometers and was to commemorate the 21st Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

A tenth student, Nicolai Popov, was supposed to join them there but he missed the train – something for which he was probably infinitely grateful for. Zolotarev, who had been introduced to Dyatlov through another hiker, joined them at the train station that evening, which bumped their number from nine to ten. They were a little late arriving at the train station and they had to run with all their gear and supplies, but they made their train and settled in. Much to their delight, another group from UPI, led by Yuri Blinov, was in the same car and would be traveling with them as far as Vizhay, though the two groups didn’t share the same ultimate goal – Dyatlov’s group was heading for Mount Otorten. The two groups stayed up until the wee hours of the morning chatting and having fun, and eventually they settled in and went to sleep.

January 24: The train arrived at the town of Serov, 201 miles (324 km) north of Sverdlovsk, at 7am. A train now only stops briefly in Serov, but in 1959 it was a 12 hour delay between trains. Because of the early hour, the group was not allowed into the train station’s sitting room. Krivonischenko, happy at being with friends he had hadn’t seen for a while and giddy with the thought of adventure, began singing. He was nearly arrested by a nearby policeman who claimed he was “disturbing the peace.” Eventually he was released without being charged.

The group was exhausted from their night of traveling since they hadn’t gotten much sleep, so they knocked on the door of a nearby school, simply known as School #41, and asked if they could sleep there for a bit. The school agreed on the condition that the hikers would speak to the children about their expedition. So, after they had rested up, they spoke to the children. They loved Zolotarev, who had a plethora of songs he could amuse them with, and Kolmogorova, who they fell in love with immediately. In fact, they loved her so much that they begged her to stay behind and head their children’s group, an organization similar to the Boy Scouts in America. At the end of the day, the children got permission from their teacher and walked with the tourists to the train station to see them off.

While at the train station, there was another incident with the police when a drunk young man accused the group of stealing his wallet. This incident was resolved and their train left Serov for Ivdel at 6:30pm. It was roughly a 5 1/2 hour ride.

January 25: The train arrived in Ivdel just after midnight. The group found a large waiting room where they stored their equipment and took turns keeping an eye on it while they waited for the bus to Vizhay later that morning. The bus was very crowded with the tourists, their luggage, and the local passengers, but they all squeezed in. At one rest stop, Kolevatov was left behind and the bus had to stop and wait while he caught up. One wonders what might have happened if he had not caught up and had been forced to turn back.

They arrived in the small town of Vizhay around 2pm. The village no longer exists, having burned down in 2010 summer forest fires, but in 1959 this was where they stopped. It was also at this village that the group parted with Blinov’s group, who left that day on their expedition. Dyatlov’s group had to wait until the morning to continue on. They spent the night in a run-down hotel, where they slept two to a bed and two more had to sleep on the floor.

January 26: The group arranged to travel to the 41st kvartal (a temporary camp where woodcutters lived and worked) by way of an open flat-bed GAZ-63 truck. They left Vizhay about 1:10 in the afternoon. It was a long, cold, and fairly miserable journey during which Yudin got sick. When they arrived in the 41st kvartal, they were warmly welcomed by the workers. They were given a private room at the hostel there, where they were well taken care of. It took them 6 hours to cook dinner, and then the majority of the group went to watch a movie. A few remained – perhaps bitterly – to do the dishes and clean up.

January 27: They arranged for a horse and cart to take their equipment to the second severny, an abandoned geologists’ camp, around 4pm. The cart was driven by Stanislav Valyukyavichus. He was a former convict, but no one seemed to think he was dangerous. In fact, the tourists wrote about him quite fondly in their diaries and even awarded him a nickname. The tourists walked while the cart drove, and they soon overtook the slow-moving cart.

It was after dark when they arrived in the second severny. There were about twenty houses in the abandoned camp, but only one of them was suitable for spending the night. They found this house in the dark by an ice hole out front. Valyukavichus stayed the night with them.

January 28: With Yudin’s illness getting worse and an old injury acting up that caused him to be in a great deal of pain, he realized that he wouldn’t be able to make the arduous level III hike in the mountains. He said goodbye to his friends and returned with Valyukyavichus to Vizhay, where he would visit his home until the start of the next school term in Sverdlovsk. There is some speculation that Yudin had seen Dyatlov speaking with a local who warned them against the trip, but this is unverified and is most likely untrue.

After Yudin’s departure with Valyukyavichus, the remaining nine tourists set out on the main part of their journey. They moved along the River Lozva and stopped to make camp at 5:30pm.

January 29: The group moved from the River Lozva to the River Auspia, following along the bank. That evening, they celebrated Doroshenko’s birthday by giving him a mandarin, which were hard to come by at the time and were usually given as New Years gifts. Doroshenko insisted on splitting the mandarin into eight portions for his friends – Dubanina was sulking in the tent and did not come out to join in.

January 30: Rising at 8:30, the group continued to hike along the River Auspia. In their journals, they commented on the markings from Mansi hunters that they found on trees along their path. The going was difficult for them and they only made about 17 kilometers that day.

January 31: They left the Auspia Valley and took an old Mansi trail, where the going was easier. Once they left the trail, however, the path became much more difficult. They pitched their tent between 4-5 pm.

February 1: The group probably rose about 10am that morning. They spent roughly 2 hours on making a cache, where they would store the supplies they would need on the way back down the mountain. They left behind everything that wasn’t necessary as it was the most difficult part of their trip and they would need to have a lighter load to make it. Many suggest that the group spent an hour to an hour and a half on a hot lunch, as it was the last hot meal they would have until they reached their destination.

The group only hiked for a few hours that day, but at some point they missed the pass between Elevations 1079 and 880. Elevation 880 was incorrectly labeled (it has now been renamed Elevation 905), which would account for the confusion. In any case, it began getting dark around 3pm and the group stopped at about 4pm to set up camp on the slope of Elevation 1079, known to the Mansi as Kholat Syakhl, or “Mountain of the Dead.” Why the group decided to camp on Elevation 1079 has been a much-debated question. It has been suggested that there was a snowstorm and the tourists thought it would be easier to ride the storm out on the slope rather than stay out in the snow any longer to walk back down to shelter. Perhaps Dyatlov didn’t want to lose any of the ground they had covered that day by turning back to the forest down the slope – though a later expedition reported it would have only set the group back by about 40  minutes to do so. Another suggestion is that Dyatlov wanted his group to camp out on the unprotected slope as a training maneuver, but this seems a little harsh for a training maneuver. Not to mention that they were planning on  making the most difficult part of their journey the next day, and would need to be well-rested. We will probably never know why they decided to make camp on the slope of Elevation 1079 rather than retreat into the forest, where they would be sheltered from the wind and would have been able to find wood for their fire.

They probably ate dinner around 6-7 pm. Later autopsy reports stated that they died 7-9 hours after their last meal. It was probably during dinner – most likely towards the end of it – that the event occurred. The tourists had not yet gone to bed – confirmed by the location of items inside the tent, which would have been moved had it been time to sleep – and there was still food out, indicating that not everyone had finished eating. Something happened that caused the tourists to cut their way out of the tent and leave in nothing but what they were wearing at the time, some of them in nothing but underwear, all but one barefoot. Traces of urine outside the tent suggest that someone stepped outside to relieve themselves just before the event, perhaps one of the tourists who was found better dressed than the others, like Zolotarev or Thibeux-Brignolles.

The tourists moved in a steady line down the slope, separating at one point and then reconvening under a cedar tree in the woods over a mile away. They tried to build a fire there. The lower branches of the cedar tree were broken, and there was flesh clinging to the bark of the tree, which suggests they – probably Doroshenko and Krivonischenko – tried to climb the tree. Perhaps they were trying to see the tent or maybe they were trying to collect more firewood. Experts say that they had a difficult time keeping the fire going.

At some point, the group split. Doroshenko and Krivonischenko remained at the cedar tree – their bodies were found there weeks later. Dyatlov, Kolmogorova, and Slobodin headed for the tent – all three bodies were found on the slope between the tree and the tent. It is possible that Dyatlov and Slobodin got into a fist-fight of some sort, as both corpses were sporting injuries common in hand-to-hand combat. Additionally, Slobodin had a bloody nose and an injured skull, so perhaps Dyatlov knocked him out? Slobodin’s body was found with a bed of ice underneath it, which means that his body was still warm when he fell. The most logical explanation for this is that he fell while unconscious and just never regained consciousness. Perhaps Dyatlov knocked him out during their fight and then just left him there. The remaining four – Dubanina, Zolotarev, Kolevatov, and Thibeaux-Brignolles – at some point made their way down to the nearby ravine. Why they did this is unknown. It is likely that they had not sustained their critical injuries yet, as it would have been nearly impossible for them to climb down into the ravine with them. They attempted to build a shelter there using twigs and remnants of clothes.

At some point in the night, someone – presumably Kolevatov, as he was the least injured of the four in the ravine – went back to the tree. Finding Doroshenko and Krivonischenko dead, the person stripped the bodies of their clothes – sometimes with the help of a knife – and took them back to those in the ravine, where the clothes were redistributed. At some point after that, the four in the ravine succumbed to their injuries and to the cold. The events of this day are educated guesses, as no record was left of this time.

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