The Dyatlov Pass Mystery
February 22, 2008 7:48 AM   Subscribe

Nine experienced cross-country skiers hurriedly left their tent on a Urals slope in the middle of the night at around -30 degrees Celsius for no obvious reason, casting aside skis, food, boots and most of their clothes. Soon they would be dead, some with injuries more suited to car crash victims, and apparently dosed with radiation. Their deaths are still unexplained, 49 years later. The Mystery of the Dyatlov Pass Accident.

Photos from the skiers' own cameras.

Photo gallery (includes photos from cameras of victims, photos taken by searchers and others).

Online version of the novella by Anna Matveieva
posted by Henry C. Mabuse (122 comments total) 174 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well that's terrifying.
posted by fermezporte at 8:01 AM on February 22, 2008


Well. That certainly pegs the creepy-meter on the right side of the dial. I'd say Kholat Syakhl was a good place not to be on February 2, 1959.
posted by mojohand at 8:06 AM on February 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh wow. I love reading about this kind of stuff. Reminds me of reading the big Mysteries of the Unexplained book my parents had on the bottom shelf when I was a kid.
posted by echo target at 8:11 AM on February 22, 2008


Wow -- fascinating and deeply, deeply creepy.
posted by sarcasticah at 8:11 AM on February 22, 2008


a compelling unknown force

I imagine there was a lot of that going around in Kruschev's Soviet Union.

A most excellent post Mr. Mabuse.
posted by three blind mice at 8:11 AM on February 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Soon they would be dead, some with injuries more suited to car crash victims, and apparently dosed with radiation.

Did they check their urethreas for 2 inch nails?
posted by dubold at 8:12 AM on February 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


The answer is obvious: Project Koschei.
posted by aramaic at 8:13 AM on February 22, 2008 [6 favorites]


Wow, fascinating stuff. Thanks for this.

You can explain a lot of it away, but missing a tongue. How does that happen?
posted by Ugh at 8:13 AM on February 22, 2008


Thibeaux-Brignollel’s skull had been crushed, and Dubunina and Zolotarev had numerous broken ribs. Dubinina also had no tongue.

The secret weapon theory doesn't work because of the tongue. The secret police theory doesn't work because why leave all the evidence behind? (Or maybe the it was remote enough they thought no one would find it?) Perhaps a wild animal? Presumably there would be evidence, but it doesn't say they looked.
posted by DU at 8:17 AM on February 22, 2008


Cool, if creepy, post. The link to the novella would probably be more useful if I could read Russian.
posted by cerebus19 at 8:18 AM on February 22, 2008


Great campfire story, but the Wikipedia article is sorely lacking in English-language citations (and proper grammar!). The SP Times article reads better, but still, where are the facts, man!?!?!

For one thing, the event happened more than fifty years ago in a remote part of the world ruled by an authortarian dictatorship (and murderous to boot). The political and social conditions of the time were little suited to the collection of cold, hard, empirical evidence.

A bunch of people went on a hike in frigid conditions, and they died. There is some mystery over how they died. Why not blame someone? The government? UFOs?

Assuming it's true they died shoeless and in their pajamas, and that many suffered wounds and other fractures, it brings to mind Into Thin Air, the story about the doomed expedition to Mount Everest when a number of folks died.

I remember the writer saying in Into Thin Air that when people suffer from exposure (and I'm assuming that the temperature on the South Coll of Everest and in the Urals in mid-winter is about the same) they can experience delirium. They can take off their clothes even when it's frigid outside.

Stumbling around in a delirium can result in a lot of broken bones and craniums.

As for lights in the sky, missing tongues and orange complexions, well, the more juicy details there are, the more juicy the story.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:18 AM on February 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


I agree, Ugh. I kept thinking, "Okay, a meteorite crashed into them. Bizarre, certainly rare, but that would explain the radiation and the rush from the tent and holy christ he had no tongue?!"
posted by misha at 8:19 AM on February 22, 2008


The Yeti have a reputation as really bad kissers...
posted by ba at 8:19 AM on February 22, 2008 [15 favorites]


After the funerals, relatives of the deceased claimed that the skin of the victims had a strange orange tan. They also claimed that the dead were completely grey-haired.

You can be tanned (and blinded, from the same link) from an atomic blast. But your hair won't turn grey, AFAIK. That's going to require either time or chemical alteration.

Wikipedia calls my animal theory "naive". Yeah, well you smell funny!
posted by DU at 8:21 AM on February 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well it's obvious that these hikers were in a rush to leave. Now the question remains, Alex, is were they trying to get away from something... or was something... trying to get at them?
*takes off sunglasses dramatically*

Yeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!
posted by Mach5 at 8:23 AM on February 22, 2008 [22 favorites]


Stumbling around in a delirium can result in a lot of broken bones and craniums.

You'd have to be stumbling pretty hard to get car-crash level injuries.
posted by DU at 8:24 AM on February 22, 2008


It's like they went out looking for their holes.

Very creepy.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:24 AM on February 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Guschin reported that the police officials gave him a special permission to study the original files of the inquest and use these materials in his publications. He noticed, however, that a whole number of pages were excluded from the case, as well as the mysterious "envelope" mentioned in the case materials list, but missing in fact. In the same time, unofficial photocopies of the case parts started to circulate among other enthusiastic researchers."
posted by mecran01 at 8:25 AM on February 22, 2008


Sorry, that should be "SHE had no tongue." Ludmilla was only 21, and pretty (first pic in the first link of the FPP). Maybe she bit it off when she was suddenly awakened and they had to scramble out of the tent, cutting their way free?

I'm sure they all intended to get back to camp; this barefoot or stockinged run into the snow in the middle of the night was obviously not planned but the result of something cataclysmic that shook them all up, stripped them of their expertise and left them all in a state of primal, fight-or-flight fear.

So, they run away. They scatter. A couple of them built a fire, climbing a tree to try to determine where the camp was, having lost their bearings in the dark. Another few ran further, tried to get back to camp and froze. And the last three...fell down a ravine? They had cracked skulls and ribs and the lost tongue, so I'm guessing it was something like that. Which still doesn't explain the radiation, though since "orange balls" had been seen around, I'm still thinking meteor shower.
posted by misha at 8:30 AM on February 22, 2008


They can take off their clothes even when it's frigid outside.

True KokoRyu, but these folks were experienced climbers.

The location - and finding - of the mutilated folks under 4 meters (13 feet) of snow is something, though. I bet secret police.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:37 AM on February 22, 2008


though no definitive answer on this story, here is some of the speculation that suggests a govt secret site

http://www.themoscowtimes.com/stories/2008/02/04/004.html
posted by Postroad at 8:42 AM on February 22, 2008


One of the links suggests an avalanche or threat of avalanche. This would explain people awakening in a panic and hurriedly exiting their tent. It could also explain the bodies that had massive internal injuries but little external wounding - as well as the lost tongue (being hit by a tremendous force while sticking one's tongue out for some reason --> biting off tongue). Occam's razor and all that...
posted by googly at 8:45 AM on February 22, 2008


I just want to say thank you! This is truly an awesome post.
posted by lattiboy at 8:51 AM on February 22, 2008


Great post, thanks.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:51 AM on February 22, 2008


One of the links suggests an avalanche or threat of avalanche.

There's some settled snow on the tent which suggests further activity after the hikers left it, which makes me wonder about the integrity or accuracy of the footprints.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:52 AM on February 22, 2008


On February 26, the searchers finally found the abandoned camp on Kholat Syakhl. It was obvious that the camp had been left hastily - the tent had been ripped from within, so it looked like the inhabitants hurried so much so they had no time to open the normal exit. The chain of footsteps leading down to edge of near wood (on the opposite side of the pass, 1,5 km north-east) but after 500 meters they were covered with snow. At the forest edge, under a huge old pine, the searchers found remains of fire and first two dead bodies - shoeless and dressed in their underclothes only (Krivonischenko, Doroshenko). Between the pine and the camp the searchers found yet another three corpses (Dyatlov, Kolmogorova, Slobodin) - they seemed to have died in dynamic poses directed to the camp - as if they had tried to return to it. They were found separately at the distance of 300, 480 and 630 meters from the pinetree.

Searching of the rest four travelers took more than two months. They were found only on May 4 under 4 meters of snow, in a stream valley farther in the wood from the pinetree.


That sounds exactly like experienced backcountry people reacting to an avalanche. Heavy snowfall combined with a sharp change in temperature and they were camped on a slope? If I heard an avalanche (and they are loud and echo all around) I would run like hell for the nearest trees too. Trees mean that the location is not in the regular avalanche runout zone and relatively safe. It sounds like at least one avalanche came down between them and their camp (the covered footprints) and so they likely thought it was buried and tried to make a fire in the trees and regroup. When it became apparent they would die of exposure some of them tried to make it back to camp and died on the way.

The four bodies crushed under 4 meters of snow is totally consistent with an avalanche too. They were probably either caught in the first one or in a later one trying to get back to camp.

I don't see the big mystery?
posted by fshgrl at 8:58 AM on February 22, 2008 [13 favorites]


Yeah, I was going to suggest an avalanche or panic at the risk of one. Snow avalanches are very powerful.
posted by Kattullus at 9:06 AM on February 22, 2008


Man. Fascinating stuff.

And I've been plowing through the X-Files box set lately, so it's really, really hard not to imagine this as a slide-show presentation down in Mulder's basement office.
posted by cortex at 9:07 AM on February 22, 2008


Except most avalanches aren't radioactive. That's the wild card in this story.
posted by tommasz at 9:07 AM on February 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


I agree with fshgrl. Perhaps the tanned skin and grey hair was because their bodies started to decompose under the snow.

Another mystery...debunked and solved!
posted by KokuRyu at 9:09 AM on February 22, 2008


I like the avalanche theory too, except for radioactivity. So, lets combine - what if the avalanche was caused by military testing? And once they figured out that it was the avalanche from the testing that killed them, the results were covered up.

It even makes sense because of the trees - if it wasn't a regularly avalanche prone area, the trees would grow. The avalanche was an exception, caused by the testing.
posted by olya at 9:19 AM on February 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


I remember the writer saying in Into Thin Air that when people suffer from exposure (and I'm assuming that the temperature on the South Coll of Everest and in the Urals in mid-winter is about the same) they can experience delirium. They can take off their clothes even when it's frigid outside.

Yeah, but the deleium in Into Thin Air wasn't from exposure to cold; it was from hypoxia since they were well over 20,000 feet in elevation. You can get kind of silly in hypothermic conditions, but having an entire party of experienced winter campers simultaneously suffering from hypothermia is a bit of a stretch.
posted by LionIndex at 9:19 AM on February 22, 2008


Very cool (the post, not the tragic and mysterious sequence of events). Makes me wish I could read Russian.

It's also the first "orphaned article" tag I've ever seen on wikipedia. For some reason it creeps me out in a similar way, albeit on a vastly smaller scale. Something about the thought that the article about the lost hikers might itself get lost in some kind of wikipedia information avalanche... (ow, my head).
posted by somanyamys at 9:23 AM on February 22, 2008


if it wasn't a regularly avalanche prone area, the trees would grow

Trees in alpine conditions are usually stunted and take longer to grow.

Thanks for clarifying the difference between hypoxia and hypothermia, LionIndex. Still, I like fshgrl's explanation.

As for the radioactivity: perhaps made up in order to add drama to a mystery?
posted by KokuRyu at 9:24 AM on February 22, 2008


"I like the avalanche theory too, except for radioactivity. So, lets combine - what if the avalanche was caused by military testing?"

Bingo. I'm partial with this theory as well. Fascinating story nonetheless. This post made my day.
posted by tiger yang at 9:25 AM on February 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


It was Russia in the 1950s. Everything was radioactive. I vote for fear of or actual avalanche, although the tongue thing is still weird.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:26 AM on February 22, 2008


Bah. It's never bigfoot.
posted by Artw at 9:29 AM on February 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


Are we sure she had a tongue to begin with?
posted by Paid In Full at 9:32 AM on February 22, 2008 [5 favorites]


Avalanche theory makes the most sense to me. Explanations for the radiation, in order of likelyhood:

- Faulty testing -- there was no radiation, or clothes were contaminated after the fact.
- Nuclear test days or weeks prior to the accident. Test could have been hundreds of miles away, and fallout has settled in the snow field.
- Naturally occurring radiation. Nearby outcrop of uranium, maybe.
- Nuclear test on the day of the accident. Nearby, and possibly even the cause of the avalanche.
- Super secret KGB radiation beam.
- UFOs
posted by event at 9:35 AM on February 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


What a great story, and just in time for my BIG SNOWBOARDING TRIP. Thanks, MetaFilter!
posted by LordSludge at 9:35 AM on February 22, 2008


Yeah, but the delirium in Into Thin Air wasn't from exposure to cold...

No, this type of delirium is all too common regardless of altitude, as everyone learned from the James Kim tragedy in Oregon.

Except most avalanches aren't radioactive. That's the wild card in this story.

What we don't have is any kind of determination as to the level of radioactivity or the naturally occurring levels of radioactivity in that area. Occam's Razor, it was just an avalanche, with perhaps some animal activity taking place afterward.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:37 AM on February 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Okay, based on the evidence, Occam's Razor says it was a radioactive avalanche filled with secret police and wild animals. And, honestly, that's as good a description of Commie-era Russia as any I have ever heard.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:41 AM on February 22, 2008 [42 favorites]


Hey, AZ, at least they still had wild animals. Weren't all bad.

sorry, have been playing forumwarz again.
posted by imperium at 9:46 AM on February 22, 2008


I don't know why, but this has me thinking of the movie, 'Picnic at Hanging Rock'.
posted by doctorschlock at 9:47 AM on February 22, 2008


Sunlight reflecting off lots of snow tans (and burns) skin even more quickly than a day at the beach. Skiiers get deep tans and sunburns all the time.
posted by rusty at 9:47 AM on February 22, 2008


Back in the 60's the CIA was putting nuclear-powered listening posts up on mountains in India, on Nanda Devi (well, trying to and failing. Fascinating story all on its own.)

Perhaps these climbers stumbled onto a pre-flight of the same program. Would explain the secrecy, the radiation, the location, coverup, etc.
posted by bhance at 9:50 AM on February 22, 2008


Re KokoRyu's comment: while I don't think the "tanned" skin is necessarily significant, how much decomposing can a body really do at -30 Celsius?
posted by moonlet at 9:50 AM on February 22, 2008


Also, relevant fact about hypothermia: in the last stages of death by hypothermia, the body suddenly flushes the skin with whatever warm blood it has left. The blood, at around 89 or 90 degrees , feels absolutely boiling to skin that was previously damn near frozen. So victims suddenly get extremely hot, feel like they're literally on fire, and strip off all their clothes. This happens with such predictability that finding bodies in a cold place with little or no clothing is pretty much proof of death by hypothermia.

I like the avalanche theory, myself. Sounds about right.
posted by rusty at 9:52 AM on February 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


Radioactivity? Feb. 2? Has nobody suggested mutant groundhogs? Come on, people!
posted by GhostintheMachine at 9:55 AM on February 22, 2008


Radiation? Mutilation? Maddening fear?

Gentlebeings, I give you your culprit:

Azathoth.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 9:55 AM on February 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


One of the clues I picked up over the years from studying the USA cattle mutilation mystery is that tongues and rectums are removed from the animals. This is possibly to study the tissues, as the soft tissues of those organs absorb radioisotopes & are easier to study for traces of biological contaminants, IIRC. The inference being that the mutilations are done by earthly organisations studying radiation damage or other biological traces.

If there were some military test gone awry, say an explosion of a flying device whose aerial blast injured some of the skiers and frightened the rest, and that device was in some way reliant upon nuclear power, then the hasty cleanup operation by the military might include the removal of a tongue in order to study the radiation levels absorbed by the victim.

The avalanche explanation doesn't seem likely. Pictures show the tent site, and it does not appear to be on a steep slope, nor is the tent buried. While this took place in the Ural mountains, the site itself does not appear to be a big mountainside. The avalanche explanation was dismissed by researchers as untenable, as if you were buried under an avalanche or injured by it, how could you flee far? Would an experienced outdoorsman flee a tent without clothes from an oncoming avalanche, into certain death, or would they wait to clothe themselves and dig their way out?

They would have had to be out of their minds with terror. Clearly something quite outside of their experience happened, which I think rules out avalanche. It also rules out animal attack, as apparently the same people had encountered a bear in a previous expedition and scared it away.

As someone on MoFi said, if you were going to test a secret weapon or experiment with potentially lethal radiation, you would do it on a mountain that the locals never went to because they thought it was cursed.

In the main article link it says that Yudin claimed he had seen documents that led him to believe that the criminal investigation had been opened on Feb. 6, 14 days before the search team found the tent. This would indicate that the military had begun a cleanup before anyone else reached the site, as at that point it was not certain that the group had met with an accident.

The only other thing that occurs to me is ball lightning, a plasma phenomena that once was considered fictitious but now known to be real. Some accounts of ball lightning have it exploding with great force or injuring people (I seem to remember a report about climbers in another part of the world being severely injured by ball lightning orbs touching them) perhaps from blast waves. A concussive blast would explain the apparent internal injuries reminiscent of a car accident with no obvious outer tissue damage.

A military test seems the likeliest answer. Or Vogons.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 9:55 AM on February 22, 2008 [7 favorites]


Am I a bad person for thinking at first this might just be viral hype for another Blair Witch?
posted by Leonard at 10:01 AM on February 22, 2008


Well, you have all ruined this wonderful story for me. Hmmph. I'm going to go off and read the Amigara Fault story, and don't nobody tell me it's not actually real!
posted by echo target at 10:16 AM on February 22, 2008


From the Wikipedia article (my emphasis added): "In the aftermath of the film, an Ekaterinburg writer Anna Matveyeva (Анна Матвеева) with help of the film makers published the fiction/documentary novella of the same name[4]. The large part of the book includes broad quotations from the official case, diaries of victims, interviews with searchers and other documentaries previously used for the film. Facultative fiction line is everyday life and thoughts of the woman (an alter ego of the author herself) who attempts to resolve this enigma."

What the heck is 'facultative fiction line?'
posted by mwhybark at 10:23 AM on February 22, 2008


The tongue thing could be the result of biting it off, but it's hard to tell how much language issues are getting in the way here. Surely if you bit off your own tongue it would only be partial, ie., the tip or about half; but the write-ups say no tongue.

On the other hand, if she died with her mouth open and tongue out, could it have snapped off after being frozen? Not very nice to contemplate, but then again Russian winters aren't kind.
posted by Zinger at 10:24 AM on February 22, 2008


FUN QUIZ!

How should this interesting Henry C. Mabuse sentence end ... ?

One of the clues I picked up over the years from studying the USA cattle mutilation mystery ...

(a) was how to make a woman achieve a satisfying sexual climax using only my elbow.
(b) was that Angela Lansbury, I ain't.
(c) was that, fuck it, I just really like steak.
(d) was that it may have been Colonel Mustard in the kitchen with the knife.
(e) was that there's more to the Got Milk? campaign than you could possibly believe.
(f) was that I really should have picked a different college major.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 10:28 AM on February 22, 2008 [9 favorites]


Reading through these suggestions, I feel that you have all missed the most likely scenario. A Hills have Eyes styled family of murderous mutants who hunted and killed the skiers one by one, only to disappear back into the woods as soon as the authorities were nearby.

They were probably made radioactive by a combination of UFO visitations and subsequent anti-UFO missile attacks by the government. Oh, and one of them was probably a half-breed yeti who was strong enough to crush people with a single mighty blow.

It's really pretty obvious when you look at all the facts.
posted by quin at 10:34 AM on February 22, 2008


Looking at the pictures, you can see that below the campsite there are lots of small stunted trees with the upslope branches stripped off. It looks like they set up camp in an avalanche path. An avalanche would explain the injuries, including the bitten off tongue. Even small avalanches are incredibly powerful. Anyone who's been in even a small one understands this.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 10:37 AM on February 22, 2008


Would an experienced outdoorsman flee a tent without clothes from an oncoming avalanche, into certain death, or would they wait to clothe themselves and dig their way out?

I am an experienced outdoorsman and snowboarder and I would run like hell if I was camped on any kind of open slope in an unknown area in a blizzard and I knew there were trees nearby. You cannot "dig yourself out" of an avalanche, it sets like cement. People have died when snow slid off their roof and buried them. 4 meters of snow and you may as well be on the bottom of the ocean.

I'm not arguing that their camp was taken out by the avalanche just that they thought it had been and so stayed in the trees or that by the time it got light and the snow stopped and they could see it was standing they were too weak to make it back. It does say that their trail was covered implying that the avalanche came down between them and their camp as they fled which is why I think this. They had no way of knowing, at night in a blizzard, how big of an area it had covered or if it was safe to go back. They had fire and wood so they stayed put.

As far as the trees being "stunted" it's irrelevant, their very presence indicates that it is not in the run out zone, as avalanches take out trees in their path. If you look at a mountain and see a large path with just scrub that's the run out zone. Don't be in it after a blizzard.

As far as rectums and tongues, that is the first thing a small animal goes for. As far as the radioactivity, who knows it was Russia and it was the 50s, maybe the bodies were brought home on a train used to ship uranium or something.
posted by fshgrl at 10:44 AM on February 22, 2008 [5 favorites]


under a huge old pine,

That to me is the key, that is exactly where I would go in an avalanche. The biggest, oldest looking tree around.
posted by fshgrl at 10:49 AM on February 22, 2008


Creepy story I had never heard of. Thank you!
posted by agregoli at 10:52 AM on February 22, 2008


For some reason, all I can think about is The Terror by Dan Simmons. Have you read that shit?
posted by kbanas at 10:54 AM on February 22, 2008


Does anybody else hear echos of the Blare Witch?
posted by Phantast at 11:06 AM on February 22, 2008


As someone on MoFi said, if you were going to test a secret weapon or experiment with potentially lethal radiation, you would do it on a mountain that the locals never went to because they thought it was cursed.

Except the initial investigation didn't turn up any evidence that the local Mansi considered the mountain sacred or cursed or anything.

Fascinating story; thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 11:07 AM on February 22, 2008


The tongue thing really freaks me out.
posted by Capt Jingo at 11:07 AM on February 22, 2008


For some reason, all I can think about is The Terror by Dan Simmons. Have you read that shit?

Yes. I liked it it allot. But I liked the true story much better.

I'm with kokuryu. This particular story is fraught with obvious bullshit. Think about it. In the US we have "Roswell", which has been has been debunked five hundred times, and yet the distortion of facts continues. In this case you have fifty years passing, a very remote location, superstitious locals and then all the information filtered by Soviet aparachiks.

I'm going with blizzard conditions at altitude, bitter cold, crazy dangerous terrain, an avalanche and the propensity of humans to lose their shit.

As far as the "radiation?" If it is true? Which I doubt. Who is to say that didn't occurred postmortem when the bodies were shipped. If they were shipped via rail god knows what kind of cargo those Soviet era trains transported.
posted by tkchrist at 11:10 AM on February 22, 2008


Radiation. Orange skin. White hair. In the Soviet Union. 50 years ago. Why would anyone take any of this at face value?

Oh...'cause it could be UFOs or a Seekret Guvment Plot...proceed to dismiss with critical thinking.
posted by kjs3 at 11:12 AM on February 22, 2008


What the heck is 'facultative fiction line?'

"Facultative" is translationese for "optional"—in the introduction to her story she explains that the documents quoted are authentic but that she's added fictional characters to investigate the old mystery; she explains how to avoid the fiction if you only want the factual stuff.
posted by languagehat at 11:13 AM on February 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


Yeah, freaked out by the tongue thing.

Great post.
posted by rtha at 11:16 AM on February 22, 2008


Okay. After looking at the the photos supposedly by the skier camera I am also going with total bullshit. Those are fake. This has got to be a movie promotion or something.
posted by tkchrist at 11:20 AM on February 22, 2008


If they were shipped via rail god knows what kind of cargo those Soviet era trains transported.

I wonder if Russians, reading about a story where some American people died under mysterious circumstances with radioactive bodies, would talk about god knows what kind of cargo those Cold War era American trains transported. I mean, for fucks sake, I think both sides had order-of-magnitude similar numbers of nukes.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:20 AM on February 22, 2008


*Spoiler Alert*
Having just read The Terror, I can state with certainty that they were attacked by a giant polar bear. The woman with the missing tongue was a shaman who used throat singing to communicate with the bear and call down its wrath on them for straying onto the sacred mountain.

She probably also had a gratuitous sex scene with the aging, alcoholic leader of the expedition.
posted by Eddie Mars at 11:21 AM on February 22, 2008


If anyone can use a Russian topographical map of the region, here it is; Otorten (Отортен) is in the upper right quadrant, between 20 and 30 on the horizontal scale and between 60 and 70 on the vertical.
posted by languagehat at 11:21 AM on February 22, 2008


Eddies Mars..


What the fuck?
posted by kbanas at 11:22 AM on February 22, 2008


The Terror
It's a fictional account of a polar expedition that get trapped in the ice. They are attacked by a giant polar bear. The polar bear has been summoned by an Inuit shaman as revenge on the expedition for straying into a forbidden area.

Later there is steamy sex for no particular reason.
posted by Eddie Mars at 11:25 AM on February 22, 2008


I understand that.

I brought it up in the first place.

I'm saying, what's with the insistence of enumerating the finer points of the plot, aside from being a dick?
posted by kbanas at 11:27 AM on February 22, 2008


Oh, and the young, beautiful shaman had no tongue.
posted by Eddie Mars at 11:29 AM on February 22, 2008


Is this like, I don't even know - by stating the basic premise in explicit terms, is that like, a really cool way to make fun of it? I'm getting old.
posted by kbanas at 11:30 AM on February 22, 2008


TheOnlyCoolTim I suggest you need to do a bit more reading about Soviet era atomic "safety" precautions. While the US committed some pretty egregious sins with thier nuclear stockpile, not the least of which was testing live nukes on soldiers and the down-winder exposures in the Hanford area. However as far abusing civilian infrastructure and exposing civilians to contamination the Soviets did shit you would not believe.
posted by tkchrist at 11:31 AM on February 22, 2008


Yeti. And the orange balls were swamp gas.

Actually, I think the avalanche accidentally brought about by military testing sounds the most likely.
posted by misha at 11:31 AM on February 22, 2008


Radioactive Wendigo.
posted by teg at 11:43 AM on February 22, 2008


Swamp gas at -30 with several feet of snow on the ground? Where is the methane coming from?

Actually none of the weather related info makes any sense. If there was a blizzard how could people have been seeing lights in the sky from miles away? And heavy snowfall at minus 30, while not completely impossible, is very unlikely. The accounts contradict themselves on these facts.
posted by fshgrl at 11:47 AM on February 22, 2008


Awesome post, thank you for this! I love overembellishedverysimplestoryletsskewthefactstomakeitmuchmoreinterestingwithaliens!
posted by sir_rubixalot at 11:48 AM on February 22, 2008


Yeti. And the orange balls were swamp gas.

Swamp gas at -30 with several feet of snow on the ground? Where is the methane coming from?

The Yeti, of course.
posted by stefanie at 11:57 AM on February 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


Great post - thanks.

While the US committed some pretty egregious sins with thier nuclear stockpile, not the least of which was testing live nukes on soldiers and the down-winder exposures in the Hanford area.


That comment made me think about something I had recently read in Bill Bryson's Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid:
In the summer of 1962, defense officials detonated a hydrogen bomb buried deep beneath the desert of Frenchman Flat, Nevada. The blast was so robust that the land around it rose by some three hundred feet and burst open like a very bad boil, leaving a crater eight hundred feet across. Blast debris went everywhere. “By four in the afternoon,” the historian Peter Goodchild has written, “the radioactive dust cloud was so thick in Ely, Nevada, two hundred miles from Ground Zero, that the street lights had to be turned on.” Visible fallout drifted down on six western states and two Canadian provinces—though no one officially acknowledged the fiasco and no public warnings were issued advising people not to touch fresh ash or let their children roll around in it. Indeed, all details of the incident remained secret for two decades until a curious journalist filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act to find out what had happened that day.
If the US could so easily cover up exposing it's citizens to radioactive dust, surely the Soviets could do the same. Thus I vote for the avalanche / near-by weapons testing super combo theory.
posted by Staggering Jack at 12:04 PM on February 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


the idea that the military inadvertently set off an avalanche makes a lot of sense, wraps up all the loose ends, except that I would think an avalanche would be leave a very distinct footprint that would have been identified by those that actually saw the site
posted by sjjh at 12:34 PM on February 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Don't be dissing The Terror, that's a great book.

...of course really it would be better if it were 200 pages shorter.

And even then it would be a good book with a better novella hidden inside of it.

And, thinking about it, if you cut that novella down to a short story it would be a totally awesome short story.
posted by Artw at 12:47 PM on February 22, 2008


After reading through this thread, I have concluded that the deaths we caused by an avalanche of radioactive secret policemen.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:49 PM on February 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


As far as the trees being "stunted" it's irrelevant, their very presence indicates that it is not in the run out zone, as avalanches take out trees in their path.

I'm sorry, this is just plain wrong. Avalanches can and do happen in the trees. One of the most obvious signs of an avalanche path is damage on the upslope side of trees. Yes, often avalanche runouts are devoid of trees, but not all slides are big enough to tear down trees outright, especially in places where the slope tends not to concentrate the debris, or where start zones rarely accumulate enough snow for size 3 events or larger.

This is a picture of the Poop Chutes on Blackcomb. If you think these widely spaced, bent over, slide battered trees are any indication of safety, I have a bridge to sell you.

Please, take an avalanche course. Also, there are a number of good books out there. Staying Alive in Avalanche Country is a good primer, and The Avalanche Handbook is the standard reference. This season has been particularly deadly for western North America. I lost a friend and old roommate in an avalanche last month. It was an entirely preventable tragedy. What you said might be taken as useful advice by someone who might end up dead because of it. I'm sorry I'm being very emotional and judgmental here; I just get very frustrated when people disseminate dangerous generalizations and assumptions about avalanches.

When I mentioned damage to trees suggests an avalanche path, I was referring to these three pictures.

This picture is of a probe line. They are looking for people buried by an avalanche. Clearly the initial search party considered avalanches likely.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:17 PM on February 22, 2008 [5 favorites]


Oh wow. I love reading about this kind of stuff. Reminds me of reading the big Mysteries of the Unexplained book my parents had on the bottom shelf when I was a kid.

I had that book as a kid as well! Hot damn, I loved it! Crammed with all kinds of spooky, creepy and wacky stuff like this.
posted by Artaud at 1:36 PM on February 22, 2008


And, thinking about it, if you cut that novella down to a short story it would be a totally awesome short story.

I can't help myself. I wrote a short story called "Taste of Life" that dealt with the aftermath of the Franklin expedition; it was published in a small Canadian semi-pro magazine. When I saw "The Terror" on the bookshelf and read what it was about, I felt very strange. I have to say that my version did not involve polar bears or tongueless shamans having sex. Maybe I should have.

Here is a link to a review of the issue it appeared in. I'm really, really sorry for interjecting myself in the thread.
posted by never used baby shoes at 1:50 PM on February 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


I am very sorry to hear about your friend but as far as anyone getting hurt as a result of reading my poorly worded comments I think it is very unlikely. Avalanches don't come to town, you have to go to the mountains and anyone doing that is likely to undertake a much more rigorous course of training than just reading metafilter. At least I hope so.

I'm sorry, this is just plain wrong

True, I got carried away in my hurry to put my point across and combined two thoughts (I was waiting for someone to contradict me on this :) ). Thought one was that: the area did not appear to be alpine enough for all the trees to be stunted so it was irrelevant in this case. Thought two was that the presence of what was described as "woods" comprised of large old trees to the side of the slope, where the bivouac was found, indicated an area that was likely not in the avalanche zone. Woods to me means thick, closely spaced trees which I loosely inter-changed with the term "trees" in my post.
posted by fshgrl at 2:00 PM on February 22, 2008


You fools! Can't you see it's a massive reverse vampire government conspiracy? Or have they gotten to you too?
posted by X-00 at 2:03 PM on February 22, 2008


Yet another reason for me to forever avoid skiing and snow sports. The other: Shaun White.
posted by spec80 at 2:13 PM on February 22, 2008


as far as anyone getting hurt as a result of reading my poorly worded comments I think it is very unlikely

Fair enough, but still, I've heard too many bullshit "rules of thumb" from people who should know better. Regardless of the forum, I don't like hearing something that would be dangerous if taken as a rule.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 2:35 PM on February 22, 2008


never used baby shoes - are you in fact the beast of cannibalism?
posted by Artw at 3:49 PM on February 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Never did a lot of hiking/camping, but the stuff about pajamas and being barefoot bothers me. Done a lot of sailing and if adverse weather conditions were shaping up I'd never sack out in my 'jamies.

I'd go to bed nearly fully clothed with my life-jacket and foul-weather gear in arm's length.
posted by lemuel at 5:24 PM on February 22, 2008


Well, you have all ruined this wonderful story for me.
Har, exactly.

My first reaction is that it seemed like more than one thing (incident/ event) was at play here. The third set of o bodies in particular puzzles me:

It took two months to locate the remaining skiers. Their bodies were found buried under four meters of snow in a forest ravine, 75 meters away from the pine tree ... appeared to have suffered traumatic deaths.
The four were better dressed than the rest,


Why were they better dressed? WHy were they farther away? Why were their injuries worse? Did they leave the campsite at a different point in time than the ones who *appeared* to have just run out in the undies? (And, as someone said, why would people be wearing only undies inside a tent, under those weather conditions?)

Also, on a less analytical, more emotional note - I always find it eerie to look at photos of people who about to meet their doom. It's like I want to crawl into that picture and yell, "Don't go where you're about to go."
posted by NorthernLite at 6:56 PM on February 22, 2008


Why were they better dressed? WHy were they farther away? Why were their injuries worse? Did they leave the campsite at a different point in time than the ones who *appeared* to have just run out in the undies? (And, as someone said, why would people be wearing only undies inside a tent, under those weather conditions?)

This seems like it still points to an avalanche. The poorly dressed party were those who fled as soon as they heard avalanche activity. The ones found buried? They were better dressed because they stayed at camp long enough to get some warm clothes on, only to be caught in a slide, and buried in a ravine. As for why they had more severe injuries, well, an avalanche explains that too. As for why they were in their undies: well, perhaps inside the tent, with all those bodies, it was a lot warmer than outside. I know the undies I wear winter camping are still pretty damn warm, and I have slept comfortably in just thermals under my sleeping bag in temperatures pretty similar to those described, in a chilly 2 person tent, never mind the canvas hostel they seemed to be in.

I think the strongest piece of evidence is the photos of the rescue party forming probe lines. That wouldn't have been done if they didn't suspect an avalanche. Besides, how did they find the bodies in a ravine under 4m of snow, unless they knew where to look? This doesn't really seem much like a mystery to me. Finally, how did these bodies end up in a ravine under 4m of snow, if not by an avalanche?
posted by [expletive deleted] at 7:20 PM on February 22, 2008


Why were they better dressed?

The article states that they were wearing a couple of articles of their dead comrades' clothing, suggesting that they were alive after their friends had died, or maybe they stayed longer in the tent and just grabbed whatever clothing was closest to them.
posted by amyms at 7:31 PM on February 22, 2008


Wow what a neat story. Freaking creepy. Maybe it was monsters?
posted by wowbobwow at 7:56 PM on February 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


The avalanche theory sounds probable, but it doesn't explain why the three who were apparently carried away by the torrent of snow were more fully dressed than the ones who supposedly escaped the avalanche, or also why the three buried victims were wearing pieces of the others clothing.
posted by bjork24 at 8:05 PM on February 22, 2008


And amyms beat me to it.
posted by bjork24 at 8:06 PM on February 22, 2008


Two avalanches. First avalanche misses the camp, but scares them and they run for the trees. Avalanche passes between the group and their camp. They believe their camp has been wiped out, so they bivouac on the spot.

They send out a team for help, outfitting them with all the gear they can scrounge up. Team departs and either falls to their death in the gully (were they roped up?) and are avalanched over later, or are swept to their death directly by a second avalanche.
posted by event at 8:15 PM on February 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


This, of course, leaves the remainder of the group to wait for help that will never come and, eventually, they die of hypothermia.
posted by event at 8:17 PM on February 22, 2008


Definately an avalanche or something they thought was an avalanche. People don't leave their tents by cutting holes in them unless they are very aware that their lives are in imminent danger. An avalanche fits this scenario.

Obviously once they had run down into the valley, they lost their bearings, it was very dark cause the couldn't even find good firewood.

Tried to survive the night, 2 didn't. As soon as there was enough light to get their bearings, headed back but all too weak to make it.

The other four probably decided to leave the fire and maybe head to lower ground and had a fall.

Perfectly explainable.
posted by carfilhiot at 8:31 PM on February 22, 2008


Only if you ignore select pieces of evidence like radioactivity and assume the Russians are complete morons. Of course, it's much more satisfying to pat oneself on the back and think you can solve a 49 year old mystery from your armchair while the people who were there claim it is unexplainable.

*of course* there is a natural explanation. It's obviously not UFOs. Or ball lightning. Or Sasquatch. But if it were perfectly explainable, it would have already been explained. Nor would the Russkies have slapped a lid of secrecy on it. It hasn't and they did.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 9:33 PM on February 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


I think the strongest piece of evidence is the photos of the rescue party forming probe lines. That wouldn't have been done if they didn't suspect an avalanche.

But then why wasn't an avalanche the official story? I have no idea how easy it is to tell if an avalanche occurred, but I would be surprised if it was difficult. This is the problem with the avalanche theory, it is the perfect story for the officials to use and create no problems, but instead the deaths were classified as happening by an unknown cause. Miltary test causes avalanche would be what I would guess.
posted by afu at 4:49 AM on February 23, 2008


What you said might be taken as useful advice by someone who might end up dead because of it.

Look, sorry about your friend, but you're not only overreacting here, you're being stupid to boot. If I'm ever in an avalanche, five minutes before reading his comments I would have simply died. Now at least I have an option: run/ski/etc. to the trees. Now, it might not save my life 100% of the time. But it's a hell of a lot more likely to work than the alternative--which was nothing at all, if you'll recall.

The avalanche theory sounds probable, but it doesn't explain why the three who were apparently carried away by the torrent of snow were more fully dressed

Did you read expletive deleted's comment?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:17 AM on February 23, 2008


Most obvious possibility that it was an underground nuclear test that caused the avalanche to begin with.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:22 AM on February 23, 2008


never used baby shoes - are you in fact the beast of cannibalism?

I'd prefer to be a beast of rampant sexuality, but what can you do?
posted by never used baby shoes at 9:34 AM on February 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


C_D, my problem wasn't so much that someone here would be endangered because of fshgrl's post, but that the thinking that it represents is dangerous, and has gotten people killed in the past. I just don't like to see it anywhere. Perhaps I should have given fshgrl the benefit of the doubt, it seems she doesn't hold the misconceptions that worry me. That was my real concern, that a dumb, unqualified rule like trees=safety would get repeated with authority to someone in a position to apply it, or that it would get her group in trouble.

I'll stop now.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 9:55 AM on February 23, 2008


Well, good that I read this at noon, as opposed to, say, 3am.

Note to self, for extra fun in the future, add "One survivor had no tongue" to any story for spice.
posted by jscott at 11:31 AM on February 23, 2008


Eddie Mars writes "a polar expedition that get trapped in the ice. They are attacked by a giant polar bear. The polar bear has been summoned by an Inuit shaman as revenge on the expedition for straying into a forbidden area.

"Later there is steamy sex for no particular reason."


Can you think of anything better to do in that situation?
posted by Mitheral at 7:44 PM on February 23, 2008


Only if you ignore select pieces of evidence like radioactivity and assume the Russians are complete morons.

There has been much discussion of how the radioactivity could tally with the avalanche theory. I also see no implication of idiocy on the part of the Russians. Juicy and exciting stories circulate much better than dull ones. Who retells a story about an avalanche 50 years on? An unsolved mystery with a hint of coverup, on the other hand...

Of course, it's much more satisfying to pat oneself on the back and think you can solve a 49 year old mystery from your armchair while the people who were there claim it is unexplainable.

It was a great post and I'm glad you made it. No one is taking their favourites back because a convincing explanation has been thrashed out in the comments.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 5:12 PM on February 24, 2008


I am an experienced outdoorsman and snowboarder and I would run like hell if I was camped on any kind of open slope in an unknown area in a blizzard and I knew there were trees nearby.

I'm thinking that an experienced outdoorsman would know better than to set up camp on any kind of open slope in an unknown area in a blizzard.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:45 AM on February 26, 2008


I just noticed that this post got mentioned (though not linked) in this chronicle column.
posted by advil at 10:44 PM on February 26, 2008


An enjoyable column, but this has got to be one of the stupidest sentences I've ever read:
After all, if you really think all there is to this world is what your five senses show you, if you think there's always got to be a logical, earthbound explanation for stories like Dyatlov, well, you might as well just join a megachurch and wipe your brain and your intuition and your deep, dark curiosity clean right now.
posted by languagehat at 8:11 AM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


An enjoyable column, but this has got to be one of the stupidest sentences I've ever read

He writes like that all the time.

Also, MeTa.
posted by rtha at 9:43 AM on February 27, 2008


The first link is down and the wiki link is now disputed.

THE PLOT THICKENS
posted by verisimilitude at 4:21 PM on February 27, 2008


A Russian friend with military experience tells me the Urals are a very bad and highly unlikely place for a weapons test. The reason is that it would be difficult to predict where the radioactive waste would be carried away by the wind to, and therefore difficult to keep a secret. He claims that the northern regions of Russia and the Kazakhstan deserts were the places used for weapons testing at that time. He also says the Urals have some uranium mines so radioactivity could be explainable by that.

The avalanche + wild animal theories are sounding the most likely.
posted by DirtyCreature at 4:04 AM on February 29, 2008


The avalanche + wild animal theories are sounding the most likely.

That or a viral campaign for the new X-Files movie.
posted by pieoverdone at 12:37 PM on February 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


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