Review: Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident, by Donnie Eichar

San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2013

ISBN 9781452112749

Subjects: Dyatlov Pass Incident; Russia; Ural Mountains Region; Hiking; Mountaineering accidents; Travel

Summary: Dead Mountain recounts the 1959 tragedy known as the Dyatlov Pass Incident. Nine young people from the Ural Polytechnic Institute (now the Ural State Technical University) trekked deep into the Siberian wilderness in the hopes of earning a prestigious hiking certification. Their goal was Otorten Mountain. The day before they were to make their ascent, they camped on the slope of Holatchahl (Kholat Syakyl), or Dead Mountain. That night, an unknown force drove all nine hikers from their tent in subzero temperatures without their shoes. There were no survivors. What happened that night remains a mystery, but theories, both wild and mundane, proliferate. In this book, Donnie Eichar offers his own theory and also details how he arrived at his conclusions. Impressively, this process involved traveling to Dyatlov Pass himself, as well as speaking with the only living survivor of the trip — Yuri Yudin — who would have been the tenth member of the group, but was forced by ill health to turn back before the fatal incident.

Evaluation: Eichar presents the story as a gripping narrative and offers a thorough exploration of a puzzling and chilling mystery that has fascinated people around the world for over fifty years. Most importantly, he doesn’t lose sight of the human story of nine young hikers who met a tragic end one freezing night in the Russian wilderness. The many black and white photos included in the book, as well as the author’s descriptions, gives the reader a very endearing and real-seeming sense of what the hikers were like as individuals and as a group. Eichar offers his own theory concerning the incident at the end of the book, which is based on the premise that a natural phenomenon led to the hikers’ deaths. He lists many of the most prominent other theories and offers his reasoning on why he does not find them feasible. He expresses his own belief in his theory, but while the reader can decide how satisfying an explanation it is, ultimately the mystery remains unexplained.

Other thoughts: I vaguely knew the story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident from a horror movie I saw a few years ago (Devil’s Pass, 2013), as well as the video game “Kholat” (IMGN.PRO, 2015). However, I recently fell in love with the Astonishing Legends podcast, and their 2-part series on Dyatlov Pass is excellent. They mention this book in their coverage of the topic, and I enjoyed those episodes so much I decided to read it. I would highly recommend checking out the Astonishing Legends page for the Dyatlov episodes, as well as listening to the podcasts, for anyone interested in seeing more documentation about the incident, as well as more in-depth coverage of the “fringier” theories: