How could I have not known about this? Not only did I somehow miss hearing about Donnie Eichar’s book Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident but I also missed hearing about the events that precipitated the book, that led up to Eichar’s obsession to write the book.
It’s a fascinating story: Back in the Soviet Union in 1959, during the time of the Cold War, ten college students from the Ural Polytechnic Institute set off for an advanced-level winter hike to the Otorten Mountains in the northern Urals. One of them turned back due to illness/pain. The others never returned.
When rescuers located their campsite weeks later, they found the tent still set up and items arranged as the campers might return any moment.
The bodies were found about a mile from the tent, half-dressed and most without shoes. Six died of hypothermia and the other three of traumatic injuries; one of the victims was missing her tongue.
Knife marks were discovered in the wall of the tent but analysis revealed that those cuts had been made from inside the tent. It’s as if all nine had fled, half-dressed, in terror from an unnamed danger while out in the middle of the wilderness, in the middle of the winter, in temperatures below -20 degrees, and over 60 miles from the nearest settlement.
The author, Donnie Eichar, a director and producer of film and television, came across this information while researching a film project, and the more he learned, the more obsessed he became until he found himself traveling to Russia to retrace the hikers’ footsteps, interview family members and experts, and learn more of what might have happened.
The result is an intriguing and well-balanced story, especially the beginning. Eichar’s first trip to the Soviet Union, for instance, is so descriptive and inviting and filled with odd characters and situations that I immediately liked him. I trusted him. I wanted him to uncover this mystery, to put everyone’s mind at ease.
Eichar does a decent job of researching possibilities behind the hikers’ deaths, though at times technical details bog down the story; I found myself skimming a few of the heftier passages. Still, he presents a sound and plausible theory, and he ends the book with a nice touch: A re-creation of the hikers’ last days, based on diary entries, evidence and probable scenarios.
I finished reading Dead Mountain last night and it still haunts me. I can’t stop thinking about it, about what the students might have been thinking during their final moments, about what they felt and saw and did. And as in all adventure books, it was almost impossible not to want to shout a warning through the pages, to shout for the hikers to turn back, to set up camp earlier; to not run fleeing from their tent in the early evening darkness.
I highly recommend Dead Mountain to all those interested in adventure stories, history or odd and unsolved mysteries.