1959, or at least it was for me. But it wasn’t such a good year for nine fit young things from Sverdlovsk, as Ekaterinburg was then known. Back then the Cold War was simmering along, close to boiling actually. Khruschev had taken over Stalin’s mantle; the Gulags were overflowing; mistakes, the wrong word in the wrong place, were costly. So the nine, from the Ural Polytechnic Institute, dedicated their trip to the mountains, with skis and tent, to the 21st Communist Party Congress, and off they set. None returned.
It was not a story I knew. But I liked the look of Mountain of the Dead – The Dyatlov Pass Incident, recently penned by Keith McCloskey. And a whole world of conspiracy theories opened up. Engrossing stuff.
It only took a few seconds for my archivist, Mr Google, to present more information:
But there was no internet in 1959, when the bodies were found, the enquiries began. And there was no google when the entire area was closed, for years, Access Denied, and the files were not available. But there were survivors, from the search teams and the UPI. And in less dangerous times they were able to talk. And bit by slow bit files became available; and the jigsaw takes shape. Pieces are still missing.
And it’s not over yet. For McCloskey tells of ongoing studies, and I’m on the lookout for information on The Lair of the Golden Woman. Two American researchers into paranormal activity in the USSR have promised more this year. Step forward Stonehill and Mantle. We want more.
Until then there’s all sorts of theories to try out for size. And of course the Fortean Times has had a say too. These were the days when east and west were busy counting each other’s bombs, and inter-continental ballistic missiles. The Space Race was underway, and the Soviets were streaking ahead.
But the bodies were found on the wrong mountain. They had internal injuries, and radiation. The tent was slashed from the inside in their desperation to vacate, as they rushed out into seriously sub-zero temperatures with inadequate clothing and barely any footwear. There were no apparent physical injuries, aside from one missing tongue and a bit of discolouring.
But as well as the wrong mountain, the tent that was found, weeks later, was erected wrongly, different from photographic evidence from earlier in the trip. The view from the plane that ‘found’ it was of a couple of nearby bodies. But on the ground the tent was buried in snow and the bodies were a mile or two away. In the night between plane and search party no snow fell.
There may have been military activity; and there may have been illegal use of a helicopter. And the skiers may have photographed it. And, and, and.
And four decades later two separate workmen, in the same area, a mineworker and a forester, witness, two weeks apart, ‘light set’ phenomena, and infrasound. Between times, in 1979, a closed military installation had an anthrax leak. 65 died, the wind having been blowing away from the closed city of Sverdlovsk and its 1.2m. But the military and medical files were taken into the care of the KGB, under the guidance of a certain Mr Yeltsin, then local bigwig and himself also a UPI graduate.
It’s a grand place for conspiracy, even now, is the former USSR. Closed cities; the disappeared; files gone; listening; secrets; and sentences. We hear too that around the same time that Igor Dyatlov took his team to the mountains, there had been an escape, several hundred zeks from the local gulags. It was a military zone, still is, for the Russians hide their nuclear arsenal in the middle of nowhere, rather than on the river by a major city. Disappeared. By Any Means. Perhaps the youngsters were just in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
Oh, it’s enthralling stuff. To think that these things happen in our own lifetimes. Actually I was in that warm and cosy place just before stepping out into the cold, but from this distance it’s more or less my lifetime. But it wasn’t Sverdlovsk cold into which I emerged, and the Cold War wasn’t on The Bedside Table then. Now The Lair of The Golden Woman, tell me more, please.
Where’s Mulder and Scully when you need them?