No, I’m not talking about the Sochi Olympics. I’m talking about Donnie Eichar’s book Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident, which I recently finished. In fact, I finished it about 24 hours after checking it out…it was a very interesting, well-paced book that I didn’t want to put down until I knew what had happened.
This is a nonfiction book that investigates a decades-old mystery, one that I had never heard of and that is so remote and foreign to me (both in terms of locale and subject matter) that it actually imparted a sense of foreboding and discomfort. In late January of 1959, nine university students set out on a 160 mile hike in the Ural mountains, during their winter break. They were already highly accomplished hikers, and this hike was intended to give them the highest ranking in outdoorsmanship that would allow them to instruct others; their plans were meticulous, their route reviewed and approved by foresters, their bags and provisions adequately thought out.
They never returned. After missing the beginning of the semester, officials began to search for them. Their tent was found intact on a slope, with all their shoes, clothes and belongings neatly arranged inside, and food set out waiting to be eaten. Eventually their bodies were found within a mile of the tent but in different places, mostly barely clothed, with injuries ranging from a broken nose and scrapes to blunt force trauma to the head and chest. Several died from hypothermia. After autopsies and looking at the evidence, the case was closed with the determination that an “unknown compelling force” led to their deaths.
Donnie Eichar came across mention of the hikers in a random fashion, while researching something else, and their story simply would not let him go. The mystery of what might have happened to these healthy, incredibly bright and vivacious young people in the remote, snowy wilderness prompted Eichar to visit Russia twice; he not only interviews people who knew the hikers as well as those who investigated the incident, he also makes the long journey to where their lives ended. I will admit, what he finds there and afterwards is not an entirely tidy answer, and if he is right, it is an ironic and cruel one.
I highly recommend you read his book, and see for yourself.