Creepy Things That Seem Real But Aren’t is a series that looks at modern urban legends, bringing you a new tale each week.
At the end of January 1959, a Russian cross-country ski team ventured into the Northern Ural Mountains. Their expedition was intended to be a week-long skiing adventure, with the goal to reach a mountain in the Urals called Oroten. But though they set out from Vizhai—the last inhabited settlement that fat north—on January 27, they never came back. Or at least, they didn’t come back on their own. Numerous attempts have been made to reconstruct the events that had led to what has now become known as the DYATLOV PASS INCIDENT, with varying degrees of success. The trouble, you see, wasn’t that the team disappeared. It was the state they were in when they were found.
Here’s what we know: Led by Igor Dyatlov, the ski team consisted of eight men (including Dyatlov) and two women: Yuri Yuden, Alexander Zolotarev, Nicolai Thibeaux-Brignolle, Yuri Doroshenko, Yuri Krivonischenko, Rustem Zlobodin, Alexander Kolevatov, Lyudmila Dubinina, and Zinaida Kolmogorova. Nearly all of them were either students or graduates of the Ural Polytechnic Institute. On January 25, they arrived by train at Ivdel. From there, they took a truck to Vizhai. They left Vizhai on January 27; the next day Yuri Yudin fell ill and returned to Vizhai, cutting down the group’s numbers to nine. Diaries and cameras found around the last camp they ever made show that they arrived at the edge of a highland area on January 31 and readied themselves for a climb. They cached food and equipment for the trip back in a woody valley. On February 1, they began to make their way through a mountain pass, evidently with the intent to cross over the pass and camp on the opposite side. However, due to heavy snowstorms, they lost their bearings and veered west, landing them on the eastern shoulder of a mountain known as Kholat Syakhl. Upon realizing what had happened, they made the decision to stop there and set up camp.
And then: Nothing. Dyatlov was supposed to send a telegraph to the team’s sports club as soon as they returned to Vizhai– no later than February 12, he had said– but February 12 came and went and no telegraph appeared. Initially, there was little fuss made over the missing skiers; given the snowy conditions of the Urals, delays were a common occurrence. Worried family members, however, were not content simply to wait for their loved ones to return, and they spurred the Ural Polytechnic Institute into action. On February 20, the first of the rescue parties went out to search for the skiers. When they came up with nothing, the military and the police are involved. Six days later on February 26, the team’s camp was finally spotted from an airplane. The camp was deserted.
The tents were badly damaged. Footsteps led down from the camp to the edge of nearby woods, but they disappeared, covered by snow, after 500 meters. At the edge of the forest, there were the remains of a fire– along with the bodies of Yuri Krivonischenko and Yuri Doroshenko. They were lying under a cedar tree, buried in snow. 300 meters from the fire, searchers found the body of Igor Dyatlov, lying on his back with his head pointing towards the tents. He held a branch from a birch tree in one hand; with the other, he appeared to be shielding his head. 180 meters away from Dyatlov’s body was the body of Rustem Slobodin. Slobodin was face-down in the snow. Another 150 meters away from Slobodin, searchers found the body of Zinaida Kolmogorov. Of these five, most were wearing little to no clothing. It was another two months before the other four members of the team were found, but on May 4, Lyudmila Dubinina, Alexander Zolotareva, , Nicolai Thibeaux-Brignolle, and Alexander Kolevatov were found. They were better clothed; however, they were also in a ravine buried under four meters of snow.