Title: Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident.
Author: David Mamet.
Genre: Non-fiction, journalism, mystery, survival, traveling and exploration, Soviet Union.
Publication Date: 2013.
Summary: In February 1959, a group of nine experienced hikers in the Russian Ural Mountains died mysteriously on an elevation known as Dead Mountain. Eerie aspects of the incident — unexplained injuries, signs the hikers cu open and fled their tent without proper clothing or shoes, a strange final photograph taken by one of them, and radiation readings on some of their clothes — have led to decades of speculation over what really happened. This gripping work delves into the mystery through unprecedented access to the hikers' own journals and photographs (many translated and reproduced here), rarely seen government records, dozens of interviews, and the author's own retracing of the hikers' fateful journey in the Russian winter. A fascinating portrait of the young hikers in the Soviet era, and a skillful interweaving of their story, the investigators' efforts, and the author's contemporary examination, here for the first time is the real story of what happened that night on Dead Mountain.
My rating: 8.5/10.
Holatchahl mountain (a.k.a. Dead Mountain), 1959. The location of the Dyatlov tent is in the middle right of the frame.
♥ Yet at the moment the inner toes of my right foot are frozen together, and I am already having dark visions of amputation. I don't complain, of course. The last time I expressed any hint of dissatisfaction, my guide Vladimir leaned over and said, "This is Siberia." I layer learn this isn't technically Siberia, only the gateway. The real Siberia, which stretches to the east all the way to the Pacific Ocean, begins on the other side of the Ural Mountains. But then "Siberia," historically, has been less a geographical designation than a state of mind, a looming threat — the frozen hell on earth to which czarist and Communist Russias sent their political undesirables. By this definition, Siberia is not so much a place as it is a hardship to endure, and perhaps that's what Vladimir means when he says that we are in Siberia.
♥ The bare facts were these: In the early winter months of 1959, a group of students and recent graduates from the Ural Polytechnic Institute (now Ural State Technical University) departed from the city of Sverdlovsk (as Yekaterinburg was known during the Soviet era) on an expedition to Otorten Mountain in the northern Urals.
All members of the group were experienced in lengthy ski tours and mountain expeditions, but, given the time of the year, their route was estimated to be of the highest difficulty — a designation of Grade III. Ten days into the trip, on the first of February, the hikers set up camp for the night on the eastern slope of Holatchahl mountain. That evening, an unknown incident sent the hikers feeling from their tent into the darkness and piercing cold. Nearly three weeks later, after the group failed to return home, government authorities dispatched a search and rescue team. The team discovered the tent, but found no initial sign of the hikers. Their bodies were eventually found roughly a mile away from their campsite, in separate locations, half-dressed in subzero temperatures. Some were found facedown in the snow; others in fetal position; and some in a ravine clutching one another. Nearly all were without their shoes.
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.
♥ I had certainly found a puzzle in the Dyatlov incident, but my fascination with the case went beyond a desire to find a solution. The Dyatlov hikers, when not in school, had been exploring loosely charted territory in an age before Internet and GPS. The setting — the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War — could not have been further from that of my own upbringing, but there was a purity to the hikers' travels that resonated with me.
♥ Our far-flung adventures created a sense of camaraderie and shared heroism between my dad and me. Though I would hardly compare tropical Central America with subarctic Russia, memories of that time lent to my appreciation of why these young Soviets had repeatedly risked the dangers of the Ural wilderness in exchange for the fellowship that outdoor travel brings.
♥ In the mid- to late -'50s, for the first time in decades, young Russians felt a renewed sense of promise — sports, the arts, technology and accessible education were all part of this new optimism. It was a hopeful period that wouldn't recur in Russian history until the fall of the Soviet Union some three decades later. By Soviet standards, the Thaw was an exhilarating time to be young, physically fit and intellectually curious. The ten members of the Dyatlov group were all of these.
♥ Igor, in the fashion of their older brother, Slava, is a tourist— though not in the Western sense of the word. A tourist in the Russian sense is much closer to adventurer: a hiker or skier who journeys into the wilderness to explore new territory and push past personal limits of endurance. And Igor, in the eyes of his fellow hikers, is a tourist of the highest magnitude.
♥ When I asked Tatiana what her last memory of Igor was, she said abruptly, "He didn't die from the snow." She then described seeing the open caskets at the funerals, and how darkly colored and aged their skin had been. "It's impossible. When people are just freezing and cold, the color of their face is not so dark." Of her brother's body, she said, "Igor was twenty-three years old and his hair looked like an old man's. It was white." Her family would not have believed it was Igor if not for one distinguishing mark on the corpse, one that brother and sister shared. "We knew it was Igor from the gap in his teeth... only the gap."
She stopped short of speculating what the aged appearance of her brother's body meant. "it's too difficult to find the truth. There are too many conflicting stories; so no one, in my opinion, will eve know."
♥ Boris Slobtsov is not a trained searcher, nor is anyone else in his group. He is twenty-two years old, in his third year of studies at UPI and is a member of the hiking club. He not only admires Igor Dyatlov as a fellow hiker, but also considers him a friend. If something like this could happen to someone as capable as Dyatlov, it could happen to any one of them. It was a fellow hiker's duty to help in any way that he could.
♥ To Yudin and his friends, the next best thing to international travel had been escaping into the wilderness, which held a romance all its own. Yet at the same time, domestic tourists were providing a useful service in helping to map out uncharted regions of the country, particularly Siberia and the Ural Mountains.
Fraternity, equality and respect were considered the reigning values among Russian hikers. "If someone was not friendly or did not work well within the group, they were not invited back," Yudin said. Furthermore, women were on equal footing with men. In his view, unlike the culture then prevalent in the United States — where women's careers hadn't advanced much beyond their prewar positions as telephone operators, schoolteachers and secretaries — there were fewer limitations on women of the Soviet Union at the time. This equality was reflected in the Dyatlov group, where Zina and Lyuda were considered as capable as their male counterparts. "Within the team there was no gender. We were all equal in everything. We had a strict code of ethics and discipline. At that time, the most important goal was the spirit of being together as a team, and overcoming the distance."
♥ As we sat down and I started the tape recorder, Yudin pulled out a yellowed songbook he used to take with him on hiking trips. Because there were few public radio stations broadcasting music in the '50s, he and his friends often had to make their own music. It was the beginning of what he called "an era of the bards," in which lyrics about love, nature and politics — accompanied by mandolin or guitar — became popular among Russia's youth. Bard songs, much like folk music in America, had spontaneously sprung up outside of the establishment. For those who wished to avoid reprisals from the Soviet government, these songs had to be memorized, as any recordings could serve as evidence against them. "We would be sitting on the train, and maybe one hundred students would be singing songs," Yudin said. "Sometimes thy were very antigovernment, but no one worried about it.
♥ Then what did Yudin believe? In response to my questions, he made it clear that he didn't think of the fate of his friends had anything to do with natural phenomena. "The number one possibility in my mind," he said, "is that it was people who came with guns because they were in an area they shouldn't have been in or they saw something they shouldn't have seen." He went on to say that the armed men had coerced the hikers into fabricating a scene to throw off investigators. The men forced them to walk into the forest half-naked, and to shred their own clothes before being left to die. "So they were forced to do it, to create this kind of madness."
The clue that most convinced Yudin that the hikers had been led by gunpoint was Lyuda's missing tongue. The reigning skeptic's interpretation was that nine bodies lying out in the open for days and weeks are going to attract animals, and that, not unlike the bird that damaged Gregory's face, the soft tissue of Lyuda's tongue had been a target for rodents. Yudin, however, doubted this explanation. "If it had been a mouse, it would have happened to everyone, to all the bodies." Instead, he believed someone had singled out Lyuda for punishment, possibly because she had been the most strong-willed and outspoken of the group.
♥ "The wind was blowing in our faces," Yudin remembers. "The temperature was very low and my clothes were very thin." Yudin would later catch cold because of this ride, but then a cold was trivial as compared with his lifelong struggles with illness. "It's a Russian way of thinking. When we are ill, we think, OK, I'm not going to the doctor. I'm not going to lie about it either, but maybe it'll go away."
♥ Examining the charred cedar branches at the fire pit, Ivanov determines that the fire had not burned for more than two hours. It is also apparent from broken branches found nearby, that one of the men had climbed the tree and had likely fallen in the process of cutting away branches. Cedar trees are dry and fragile, and the bough may have given way beneath him. This would be consistent with the cuts and bruises found on Doroshenko's body, as well as the branches found beneath him. Once the men had started the fire, it would have been large enough to warm them, but not large enough to keep it burning for long. There are also additional footprints, leading Ivanov to believe that at least one other person besides Doroshenko and Krivonishchenko had been present at the site of the tree. There is also evidence of firewood and fir twigs having been gathered for the fire, but not used. The obvious question, then, besides whey the hikers had been only half-dressed with no shoes, is: Why gather perfectly good firewood, but let the fire go out?
♥ Several days after their visit to the Mansi village, Karelin and his friends had witnessed what he called a "strange celestial phenomenon." Karelin later told investigators that on the early morning of February 17, he had been awoken by excited cries from the hikers on breakfast duty. "I rushed out of my sleeping bag and tent without boots, just in socks, stood on branches and saw a large light spot," he recounted. "It grew larger. A small star appeared in its center and also grew bigger. The whole spot moved from northeast to southwest and down." Karelin said that the light lasted just over a minute, and that he supposed it was a large meteorite. But one of his friends, Georgy Atmanaki, was so terrified by the orb of light, he feared a planet was about to collide with Earth. "I talked with witnesses later," Atmanaki told investigators, "and they described the event similarly and added that the light was so intense that people were awoken inside their houses."
Now Maslennikov wonders: Did Igor Dyatlov and his friends witness something similar? Something that caused them to leave the tent wearing no shoes?
...There were similar stories told by other hiking groups who were in the area from early- to mid- February. One of the most detailed accounts came from local hikers and search volunteers Georgy Atmanaki and Vladimir Shavkunov, who spoke of seeing "orbs" in the sky over the northern Urals on February 17. In Atmanaki's testimony to investigators, he stated that he and Shavkunov had woken at six in the morning to make breakfast for the group. As they were preparing the meal over a fire, he saw a strange white spot in the sky that he supposed at first to be the moon. But when he pointed it out to Shavkunov, him companion said that it couldn't be the moon because there was no moon that morning, and that if there had been, it would have been on the other side of the sky. "At that moment, a spark lit in the center of the spot," Atmanaki remembered. "It burned for several seconds steadily, then grew in size and flew swiftly west." Atmanaki said the sighting, which initially seemed a curiosity, grew more terrifying as it played out over the next minute and a half. "My personal feeling was that some celestial body was falling our way, but when it grew so large, I thought that some planet was coming in contact with Earth and that they would collide and Earth would perish."
Armanaki's group wasn't alone. The Ivdel prosecutor's office brought in several witnesses who reported similar sightings the morning of February 17. Prison guards posted in the area described a slow-moving orb that "pulsed" in the sky, moving from south to north, and lasting anywhere from eight to fifteen minutes.
♥ Though they had lost the Mansi's path, the hikers continued to find symbols among the dwindling trees. As the group's diary records, they talked increasingly of the native people.
Mansi, Mansi, Mansi. This word becomes more frequent in our talks. Mansi are people of the North... It's a very interesting and peculiar nation living in northern Urals, close to Tyumen region.
Zina was particularly fascinated by the tribal symbols and stopped to copy some of them in her diary.
Maybe the title of our trip should be "In the land of mysterious signs." If we knew their meaning, we could follow the path without worrying that it might take us in the wrong direction.
The skiers advance to the location of their final campsite. This is one of the last shots taken by the Dyatlov group, February 1, 1959.
♥ The determination that the tears had been made by a knife seemed to support this theory, but upon closer examination of the threads under a microscope, Churkina made another discovery: The cuts had come from inside the tent. "The defects continue as thin scratches in the corners of the punctures on the internal side of the tent," she wrote, "not on the external side. Nature and form of damage indicate that the cuts were made from inside by some blade/knife."
Once the incisions were determined to have come from the opposite direction, new theories began to emerge. Yuri Blinov, who wrote on the development in his diary, was among those who speculated that the hikers had been caught by surprise by something or someone, and therefore had had no time to completely undo the klatches at the entrance. "The tent was cut by a knife from inside in 3 places," Blinov wrote. "It means that they were escaping the tent in panic."
♥ "I was present at the funeral of all hikers," Rimma Kolevatova said. "Why did they have such brown skin on their faces and hands?" She went on to draw a connection between the hikers fleeing the ten in panic and the recent unexplained incidents in the sky over the Urals.
..The overwhelming number of witnesses who came forth to describe bizarre lights seen in the vicinity of Oroten Mountain — and to link the phenomenon back to the hikers' demise — made it difficult for the prosecutor's office to ignore this angle. It also made it more difficult for Ivanov and his crew to arrive at acceptable answers for the hikers' families. At some point in mid-March, a new piece of evidence emerged that would only bolster the theories of those who felt the orbs had something to do with the fate of the Dyatlov group. That evidence was in the final photographs taken by the hikers before they died.
..The image was dark, as if shot at night or in an enclosed space, but the camera was aimed toward an indistinct light source that dominated the left side of the frame. If the investigators in Sverdlovsk knew anything about photography, they would have quickly identified the octagonal circle of light at the center of the frame as a lens flare. But the large smear of light running up and off frame was mystifying, and would stoke half a century's speculation as to what happened in the hikers' final hours of life.
♥ But according to Vladislav Karelin, one of the search volunteers who became closely involved with the investigation, Ivanov didn't need photographs — enigmatic or otherwise — to tell him that there was more to the case than some hikers running up against bad weather. The prosecutor had already been exploring the possibility that they had not died as a result of the elements. In an interview Karelin gave to Russian author Anatoly Gushchin for his 2009 book Murder at the Mountain of the Dead, he said: "[I]n the first days of the investigation Ivanov reiterated that the students had died not of natural causes, and it had been a murder."
...In mid-March, Ivanov was called away to Moscow for reasons that he would not disclose to others in his office. Upon his return, Karelin and others noticed a pronounced change in his demeanor. "[W]e could not recognize him when he returned," Karelin said years later. "He didn't mention murder or spheres anymore. And he'd often advise us to 'hold our tongues.'"
In a 1990 letter to the Leninsky Put newspaper, Ivanov revealed that the regional Communist Party committee had instructed him not to pursue the connection between the strange lights in the sky and the hikers' deaths. He wrote that during the Cold War, "Such topics were prohibited in order to prevent the slightest possibility of disclosing data on missile and nuclear techniques." If Ivanov had up to that point been entertaining his own theories of murder and UFOs, he was told to set those theories aside for the good of his country.
♥ If there was ever an archetypal wood for Russian fairy tales (or nightmares), this was it. Then suddenly, into our sixth hour of travel, the trees stopped, and we entered an endless moonscape of snow. It might well have been the lunar surface if not for the occasional tree — that is, if you can call a dwarf pine that doesn't extend past one's knees a tree. We continued on in this nearly featureless topography, and about half an hour later, after we crested a small hill, a mottled black-and-gray shape seemed to rise out of the snow. As we drew closer, I recognized it as Boot Rock — a formation that did, in fact, resemble a hiking boot, if a severely mistreated one. The 30-foot-high jagged stone seemed an unlikely blemish upon the barren tundra, as if it had either been dropped from above or thrust up by a subterranean force.
...Fir the families and friends of the Dyatlov hikers, and for follows of the case, Boot Rock has become a place of pilgrimage, at least during the warmer months when the rock is more accessible. ...The rock had also served as a temporary grave marker for the bodies of the Dyatlov group, which had been stored here until they could be transported to Ivdel by helicopter.
I looked up to see a metal structure resembling a fez crowning the top of the rock, with a star perched on top of it. The 1959 search party had erected the ornament in order to better see the rock from a distance. On the far side of the rock, about six feet above the ground, we found the bronze plaque commemorating the Dyatlov party.
...Friends, take off your hats
In front of this granite rock.
Guys, we won't let you go...
We keep warming up your souls,
Which are staying forever
In these mountains...
(Шапки товарищи снимем
Перед этой гранитной скалой
Ребята, мы вас не покинем...
...Мы теплом своим согреем ваши души,
Не покинувшие этих гор...)
♥ When I reached the point Borzenkov had indicated, I turned around, taking in 360 degrees of "Dead Mountain." The name "Holatchahl" derives from the Finno-Ugric root "hoolat," meaning "dead" — Finno-Ugric being the larger linguistic grouping of languages to which Mansi belongs. Despite a gloomy name that invites a clear connection to be drawn to the Dyatlov tragedy, Mansi semantics experts believe the mountain to have been named for its lack of vegetation. In this meaning, "Mountain of the Dead," as some come to call it, is incorrect. "Dead Mountain" is the proper translation, which certainly made sense to me — there was no life up here to speak of. I didn't find the slope particularly beautiful or inspiring, and for some reason, I found the bald dome of the summit difficult to look at.
In unspoken agreement, the three of us stood there on the slope of Holatchahl in silence, knowing that at the very least, this place deserved a certain respect for the nine who had once stood here. But as the biting wind swept down the slope, it created a shrill whistle — a sound both beautiful and terrifying.
♥ Vozrozhdyonny conluded that Kolevatov had died of hypothermia, as had the first five hikers found. No surprises there.
With the first examination out of the way, Vozrozhdyonny and Ivanov might have expected that the three others had met the same fates. And, indeed, upon initial examination of thirty-seven-year-old Sasha Zolotaryov, things seemed to be progressing as the previous examination had. Zolotaryov was wearing generous layers of clothing, no shoes, and his skin and organs showed the same discoloration. One superficial difference was Zolotaryov's multiple tattoos. In addition to a tattoo of beets and the name Gena on his right arm and hand, his left arm revealed a five-pointed star and the number (or year) 1921. It was Zolotaryov's midsection that struck the forensic analyst as unusual: The right side of his chest had sustained serious injury, with five fractured ribs resulting in sever hemorrhaging. Vozrozhdyonny concluded that the fractures had been inflicted by a "large force" while the victim had been alive.
For twenty-three-year-old Kolys Thibault-Brignoles, Vozrozhdyonny found similar injuries, though this time the fractures were to the head. He concluded that Kolya had died of "impressed fracture of the skull dome and base with abundant hemorrhage." He added the injury had been sustained while the hiker had been alive by "effect of a large force."
The forensic expert's examination of Lyudmila Dubinina was the most alarming. The twenty-year-old's body had sustained massive thoracic damage, with internal hemorrhaging, including that of her right heart ventricle, plus fractures to nine of her ribs. Most disturbing, however, was that when Vozrozhdyonny examined the young woman's mouth, he saw that her tongue was missing. He offered no explanation in his report for this last detail, concluding only that, along with two of her companions, Lyuda's death could be classified as "violent."
♥ The radiation measurements of the hikers' clothing, however, was different matter, and Levashov's own interpretation of the data is one of the central reasons the Dyatlov case has continued to spawn conspiracy theories some five decades later. Levashov stated that the Soviet Union's "sanitary standards" for beta-particle contamination were under 5,000 decays per minute per 23 square inches. If the hikers had been exposed to natural levels of radiation, why then was a brown sweater belonging to one of the hikers (probably Kolevatov or Lyuda) found to contain almost twice this number — 9,900 decays per minute? According to Levashov, this level of contamination "exceeds standards for people working with radioactive substances." It turned out that the other pieces of clothing found on the hikers also measured at levels above the normal 5,000 decays per minute. And because the clothing had been sitting for days in melting snow and water, Levashov suggested that "one can suppose that the initial contamination was much higher." When the question was put to Levashov if the clothing could have become contaminated by radioactive substances under normal conditions, he said that this was impossible. "The clothes are contaminated either with radioactive dust from the atmosphere or by contact with radioactive substances. As I've said, this contamination exceeds standards for people working with radioactive substances."
♥ Before Ivanov shut the casebook forever, he cited the cause of the hikers' deaths as "an unknown compelling force." For the next forty-plus years, the families and friends of the hikers would have nothing more than this cryptic summation to explain the secretive behavior of their government and the harrowing deaths of the people they had loved.
♥ My entire strategy thus far had been process of elimination, not unlike the oft-quoted maxim of Sherlock Holmes: "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." ... I don't remember Sherlock Holmes ever mentioning what you are supposed to do when you've eliminated everything improbable, and nothing is left.
♥ Gavreau determined that he and his assistants were suffering from the pressurized effects of infrasonic frequencies through their eardrums. These low-frequency waves can cause the eardrum to vibrate the hair cells of the inner ear. The effect on this is that, although the sound may not be "audible" to the casual listener, the excited hair cells in the inner ear send impulses to the brain — and this disconnect between apparent silence and the brain's receiving signals from the ear, can be extremely disruptive to the body.
I learned that man-made sources of infrasound were numerous — cooling and ventilation systems and wind farms being typical culprits — but these low-frequency waves also occurred in nature as by-products of earthquakes, landslides, meteors, storms and tornadoes. The Bedard-Georges study outlined and studied these infrasonic occurrences in nature; in particular, when winds of a certain speed encounter an obstructive landscape. I later learned that his naturally occurring infrasound could be devastating to humans, causing nausea, severe illness, psychological disturbances and even suicide — symptoms not unlike those theoretically produced by experimental infrasound weaponry.
♥ He had recently fallen ill, and his treatment limited his ability to research and write as effortlessly as he used to. Despite my repeated concerns and questions about his health, Borzenkov would not reveal the nature of his illness — how severe it might be, for example, or whether he had years or months to live. I knew by now that this was the Russian way. If his illness had not affected his ability to respond to me e-mails, he probably wouldn't have divulged his health problems at all.
♥ In 2003, London researchers looking into the symptoms of infrasonic wave exposure hid an "infrasonic cannon" in the back of a concert hall in South London. An audience of 750 people was then asked to sit through four similar contemporary pieces of music while, unbeknownst to them, two of the pieces included waves generated by the infrasonic device. Afterward, they were asked for their reactions to each piece of music. The results: 165 people (22 percent) confessed to body chills and strange feelings of uneasiness, sorrow, nervousness, revulsion and fear during the infrasonic portions; some of the same 22 percent reported accelerated heartbeat or a sudden memory of an emotional loss. Through the effects experienced by these concertgoers were on the milder end of the spectrum, the idea that infrasound was a hidden, silent instrument lurking among a full orchestra, is a fitting metaphor for how the phenomenon presents itself in nature.
♥ The Toronto Sun reported an incident from June 6, 2005, in which witnesses described a minute-long blast of sound emanating from a white Israeli military vehicle. Within seconds, protesters began falling to their knees, experiencing symptoms similar to seasickness. An Israeli military source said that such tactics are intended to "disperse crowds with sound pulses that create nausea and dizziness." Infrasound had been used by Nazi Germany to stir up anger and strong emotions in crowds assembled to hear Hitler speak.
...I was coming to understand that infrasound as a method of short-range crowd control was feasible, but the existence of long-range infrasound weapons was implausible at best.
♥ Kármán vortex street, named after Hungarian physicist Theodore von Kármán, is an occurrence in fluid dynamics of both liquids and gases. In the aerodynamics of weather phenomena, air vortices — or small tornadoes — are created when wind of a certain speed hits a blunt object pf a particular shape and size. Geographic masses around the world are known to cause this particular pattern of vortices. When these vortices are large or when revved up at a higher speed, they can reach the destruction threshold of a tornado. For instance, when strong winds hit the Rock of Gibraltar, the powerful vortices spinning off the rock are believed to be the cause of capsized ships in the Strait. These same destructive vortices are oftentimes accompanied by the twin danger of infrasonic frequencies.
♥ I then sent Bedard a quote from the 1959 criminal case, in which an Ivdel local describes the weather of this region: "In winter in the northern Ural Mountains, and even in the summer, there can be strong winds and sometimes whirlwinds... During whirlwinds, various sounds arise in the mountains, terrifying and foreign like the howls of animals or human moans... You get scared when you are there, and those who haven't heard anything lie that can become frightened."
♥ "It's not because of Boot Rock," he told me, "but because of this dome on the top of the mountain." As he traced the top of the snowy mountain with his finger, he observed, "It's a nice and symmetrical, dome-shaped object."
Hardly believing what he'd just said, I had to ask him to repeat it. The symmetrical dome shape of the summit, he explained, combined with the proximity to the tent's location, would have created the ideal conditions for Kármán vortex. With everything I had told him about the weather in the area, the lack of anything growing on the top of the mountain, the topographical maps combined with the Ivdel quote from the criminal case, he determined that, "All these descriptions tell me that there are repetitive wind events that happen here.
"Wait," I asked him, "so was it Kármán vortex or infrasound?"
Both, he said. It would be difficult to come up with a more ideal confluence of weather and landscape to create Kármán vortex street — with vortices that would produce infrasound. These vortices would have been screaming right outside the hikers' tent that night, creating an intense discomfort and fear that they couldn't begin to understand. "I can imagine they're all in the tent," Bedard said. "They start to hear the winds pick up... Then to the south they start to feel a vibration in the ground. They hear a roar that seems to pass them from west to east. They start to feel more vibration in the floor, the fabric of the tent vibrates. Another roar of a freight train passes by, this time from the north... The roaring sounds turn horrifying, their chest cavities begin to vibrate from the infrasound created by the stronger vortex now passing. Effects of infrasound are beginning to be felt by the hikers — panic, fear, trouble breathing — as physiological frequencies are generated."
...Dr. Bedard then summed up my entire three-year quest in a beautifully concise way: "What you're really trying to do is reverse-engineer a tragic event without any witnesses." But without any witnesses, without my having been there on Holatchahl mountain on that night in February, there was no way for me — or anyone — to know with absolute certainty what sent the hikers fleeing from their tent. Yet at that moment, listening to Dr. Bedard describe how the mountain and the wind could generate this elegant pattern of swirling air — and therefore the panic-inducing infrasound — I found it the most convincing theory I had yet heard.
Besides experiencing an immediate and intense sense of relief, I marveled at the simplicity of it: All along, the culprit had been the mountain that the native people had so ominously named. Had you told me three years ago that the elevation at 1,079 meters, what the Mansi called "Dead Mountain," could have been so directly responsible for the hikers' tragic end, I would never have believed it.
♥ The more I learned about the increasing sophistication of infrasonic wave detection, the more convinced I became that the connection between infrasound and the fate of the Dyatlov hikers could only have been made fairly recently. As Bedard explained, it has only been in the last decade or so — dating from around the time of Bedard and Georges' 2000 paper in Physics Today — that funding for infrasound science, and therefore a clearer understanding of its occurrence in nature, had gained any traction.
Could Lev Ivanov, working as a lead investigator in 1959, have come anywhere near to determining that infrasound had a role in the deaths of nine hikers in the Ural Mountains? Kármán vortex street aside, would Ivanov have known what infrasound was? Likely not. Nevertheless, Ivanov had done all he could with the information available to him at the time. When faced with baffling set of circumstances that seemed to point to phenomena beyond his understanding, it's not surprising that he would have entertained theories of "orbs" and UFOs.
...While Ivanov had lacked the means to accurately explain a nearly incomprehensible event, he had used the resources and vocabulary available to him at the time. Ivanov's written conclusion on May 28, 1959, that the hikers had been the victims of an "unknown compelling force" is one that has come to define the mystery surrounding the case. Though the phrase falls far short of an explanation, the conclusion had been strangely accurate. If infrasound generated by Kármán vortex street had indeed been responsible for the hikers' leaving their tent that night — and, as a result, walking to their deaths — "unknown compelling force" was, at the time, as close as Lev Ivanov — or anyone — could have come to naming the truth.
♥ Maybe Zina and Doroshenko fail to assemble the stove because something has begun to happen outside, and they are growing increasingly uneasy. The skis beneath the tent have begun to vibrate and the tarpaulin starts to sway.
For the past hour, the wind has been picking up speed as it moves over the dome of the mountain. But most alarming is its volume. The hikers are used to the haunting cry of mountain gales, but the wind's terrifying roar is closer to that of a freight train tearing down the hill past the tent — or rather a series of trains. Igor and his friends know nothing of this weather phenomenon, and when their bodies begin to respond to it, they have no earthly idea what is happening to them. Those who are lying down, sit up in alarm. Their heads begin to pound, as if they've all been struck with the same terrible migraine, and their chests vibrate strangely. This initial feeling of indeterminate anxiety rapidly worsens, until it manifests as full-blown, excruciating terror. By the time the wind outside has reached ab infrasonic threshold, the hikers are no longer just anxious about the wind — a deeper fear has set in.
What is happening to us? This may not even be a question they are capable of posing to themselves. The effects of the infrasonic frequencies have temporarily robbed them of their rational minds, and now they are operating under the more primal instinct of flight response. All the hikers want to do is stop the intense discomfort, to get away from it. It's as if the tent is a swiftly sinking ship, and the hikers must abandon it, at all costs, even at the risk of drowning. Get out, get out, get out, is all they can think.
Sasha and Kolya undo the latches, just enough to allow them to push themselves out of the flaps at the bottom. Someone at the other end grabs a knife and hacks at the back of the tent, but because the tent's walls are frozen with condensation, the first attempt don't take, and it's only the third stab that successfully tears through the canvas. The opening is just big enough for the hikers to push through, and, one by one, they exit the tent and fly into the darkness. It is twenty-five degrees below zero. The hikers are insufficiently dressed and in their stockinged feet. They are looking only for relief from the torment that has hijacked their bodies; but, in fleeting the tent,
they are only escaping from one pain into another.
Though the seven men and two women cannot see it, the wind is tearing off the mountaintop in twin files of vortices. It is, in fact, an army of winter tornadoes, with each rotating column of air hugging the contours of the summit before spinning off one either side of the slope. These vortices barrel past the hikers at 40 mph with an internal wind rotation between 113 and 157 mph, the equivalent of an F2 tornado. The twisters have since grown in size — 100 feet wide and 130 feet tall — and in addition to their audible roar, they are generating an infrasonic frequency that has been wreaking havoc on the hikers' minds. But despite the tornadoes' size and power, the hikers are in little danger of being swept away as they flee into the darkness. The tornadoes are swirling past the tent at a substantial distance, giving the hikers a wide berth to clear the tent and descend the slope.
♥ By the time the waning crescent moon rises at 3:00 AM, radiating blue behind the cloud cover, all nine hikers are motionless. They are frozen in various positions of surrender and intense struggle. In savage winter conditions, and over a vast stretch of ground, all nine fought for their own and one another's lives with the bravery and endurance worthy of Grade III hikers. It was a distinction they would never earn, but one that each of them so rightly deserved.