Sunday, May 24, 2015

Dead Mountain, the Dyatlov Pass Incident - a book review

Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass IncidentDead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident by Donnie Eichar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the best whodunnit/whatdunnit I have ever read. The Dyatlov Pass Incident is to Russian conspiracy theorists what the assassination of JFK is to American and spawned as many books. Everyone has heard of it and everyone has their own idea of what happened.

In mid-January 1959, 10 university students, led by Igor Dyatlov set out from Yekaterinburg for Ortortin Mountain at the far north end of Sverdlosk Oblast. Experienced hikers all, this trip would earn them the Class III designation they all coveted. They traveled by train, bus, truck and sleigh to the end of the road and began to hike in. At this point, one of the group turned back, suffering excruciating back pain from recurring rheumatism. A group diary and photographs recorded their trip. On February 1 they set up their tent on the eastern slope of Holatchahl Mountain (Dead Mountain in the local Mansi language). That night something drove them from their tent in a panic bordering on lunacy. Their bodies were found weeks and months later scattered down slope about a mile from the tent, without winter clothes and all without boots.

After the bodies were transported back to civilization, the forensic analysis proved baffling. While six of the nine had perished of hypothermia, the remaining three had died from brutal injuries, including a skull fracture. According to the case files, one of the victims was missing her tongue. And when the victims' clothing was tested for contaminants, a radiologist determined certain articles to contain abnormal levels of radiation.
After the close of the investigation, the authorities barred access to Holatchahl Mountain and the surrounding area for three years. The lead investigator, Lev Ivanov, wrote in his final report that the hikers had died as a result of "an unknown compelling force," a euphemism that, despite the best efforts of modern science and technological advances, still defines the case fifty-plus years later.

The author, an American documentary film maker, stumbled on the 50 year old case by accident and after exhausting internet information, decided to go to Russia in 2011 at his own expense to investigate the mystery further. It was not only the mystery that compelled him but also the chance to travel back into Soviet times. He returned again in 2012 to retrace the route of the hikers. With the invaluable help of three Russians, including the director of the Dyatlov Foundation in Yekaterinburg he accumulated all the historical files and photos and conducted many interviews.

The book, amply illustrated with photos old and new, skillfully weaves the events of 1959 with the authors journey of discovery, drawing together as he eventually reaches a conclusion. His conclusion, which in fact had been suggested and partially investigated previously, (I found it on a 2011 blog post) was confirmed as the most plausible by a group of American and Russian scientists, experts on the subject. However the conspiracy theorists remain.

Map from the book

Holatchahl Mountain, 1959.  Tent location middle right centre.  From the book
Google Earth of general area but I could not get more specific details

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  1. That's the kind of thing that makes people believe in alien visitors.

    1. That is certainly one of the theories. And I didn't even mention the strange light orbs seen in the sky that night and other February nights in the region by many witnesses.

  2. Oh, now you're making me run out and get the book! If you'd given me just the tiniest spoiler about his conclusion I could have let it rest; but no... ;-)

    1. I think it is one of the best book reviews I have done. NO spoilers. You will not regret reading the book, I hope. I was hanging onto the edge of my chair to the end.


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