33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on 4 October 2013
I only first encountered the story of the Dytalov pass incident a couple of months ago after stumbling across a review of the same titled film in IMDB. Whilst the review of the film did little to entice viewing, the story itself and the mystery surrounding it that has perpetuated over 50 years now thoroughly sucked me into wanting to read more about it and lead me in search of whatever published material was available on the subject to supplement that available on the internet.
I selected this book on the basis that it seemed to be the most recent publication on the subject and therefore might offer the prospect of more insight post the cold war thaw which seeminly allows western journalists and authors more liberal access to secret Soviet era documents.
However, whist the introductary chapters are promising, laying out the basis of the story as known and giving a very detailed time line of events leading up to and immediately following the tragedy, as well as a fairly good insight into the Soviet Union of the period, afterwards it unfortunately descends into a mish mash dissection of various conspiracy theories that have grown up around the mystery.
The fact that some of the more outlandish conspiracy theories are dealt with at considerable length by effecively rehashing the perspective of others without much in the way of further critical analysis (if indeed that were even possible!) wheras the more plausible explanations (even those involving extreme high level military or political conspiracies) seem to be skirted over in comparison, does little to maintain the initial prospect this book promised into shedding new insights into the mystery.
Indeed, all in all the book smacks of something of an unfinished body of quite promising research quickly assembled and pulled together at short notice to attempt to cash in on the new notoriety of the incident, brought about by the recently released movie, even down to the title very much resembling that of the movie. Surely too much of a coincidence also that the the cover of the book features an image of a naked female body lying in the snow, even though none of the McCloskey's evidence presented about either of the female members of the party indicate that either of them were naked when found, wheras it appears the movie utilises ample incidents of nakedness and sex in purveying their updated piggybacking onto to the incident.
I guess in summary, if your are looking for more meaty analysis, probably better to look elsewhere or maybe even on line.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 6 November 2015
Keith McCloskey obviously spent a considerable amount of time on researching this book about the strange case of nine adventurers who died in Russia’s Ural Mountains in February 1959. His enquiries have taken him to Russia itself. Helpfully, the book contains maps, photographs, a timeline of the principal events (Appendix I), and an index, although the latter is rather thin. McCloskey gives biographical details about the deceased, and discusses the historical context. He also considers numerous theories about what actually happened. Some of them are very speculative, but I found them interesting nonetheless.
THE CORE STORY
Ekaterinburg or Yekaterinburg, formerly known as Sverdlovsk, is an industrial city lying to the east of the central Ural Mountains. On 23rd January 1959, 10 members of the Sports Club of the Ural Polytechnic Institute (UPI) in Sverdlovsk departed from the city for a hiking, ski-ing and camping expedition in the northern Ural Mountains. They planned to visit Mount Otorten (4,049 ft), which is about 340 miles NNW of Sverdlovsk. On 28th January, one man dropped out of the trip on account of severe back and leg pain. He was fortunate, because his nine companions (seven men and two women) were to perish just days later. Judging from the ‘official’ account, on 1st February, before sunset, they pitched their tent on the eastern slope of a 3,540 ft mountain called Kholat Syakhl. They were apparently less than 1,000 feet below the summit, and nine miles to the SSE of Mount Otorten. (Maybe they’d unintentionally deviated from their intended route.) Later, something impelled them to abandon the tent hurriedly, by slashing their way out of it, not pausing to collect the necessary items for surviving in the bitterly cold weather. Indeed, it seems that some of them, if not all, exited without shoes or boots. They apparently descended towards the tree line in the pass to their east, which is now known as the ‘Dyatlov Pass’, in memory of Igor Dyatlov, the leader of the ill-fated expedition.
The party were expected back in Sverdlovsk in mid-February, and Dyatlov was meant to send a telegram to the UPI, on 12th February, confirming that they were on their way. With no message being received and with the non-arrival of the group, anxiety grew about their wellbeing. Search parties were eventually organized. The group’s abandoned tent was discovered on 26th February. The next day, the bodies of four of them, including Dyatlov, were found. Another corpse was found on 5th March. In early May, the bodies of the remaining four were found, close to a den apparently made to try to afford protection from the severe weather.
Judging from the autopsy reports, some of the party had suffered severe internal injuries. The worst case was that of Lyudmila Dubinnia: among other things, her tongue and eyes were missing, and her body had broken ribs.
These events occurred during the Cold War. Russia was then part of a larger political entity, the USSR, and governed by an authoritarian communist regime that went to great lengths to control the information reaching its citizens. McCloskey notes (p. 119) that even as late as the 1970s, crashes of commercial passenger aircraft in “Russia” (he probably means the USSR as a whole) were seldom publicized. Therefore, if the authorities didn’t want the public to know the full facts concerning the fate of the Dyatlov group, it’s quite likely that there would have been a cover-up.
DOUBTS ABOUT THE OFFICIAL ACCOUNT
The book gives reasons for questioning the standard or ‘official’ version of what happened to the Dyatlov party as summarized above. The case became the subject of a criminal investigation. Interestingly, the front of a case file, which became available after the fall of Soviet communism, indicated that the inquiry had opened on 6th February 1959. That’s odd, because it wasn’t until nearly a week later that someone from the Dyatlov group was supposed to send a message to the UPI, saying that they were returning. In other words, if the investigation really was opened on 6th February 1959, ‘officialdom’ must have known, at an early stage, that something bad had happened to the group.
McCloskey considers a wide range of possible explanations for the tragedy. Most of them are couched in prosaic (i.e. non-paranormal) terms. For instance, the Dyatlov party may have fled from their tent thinking that they were about to be engulfed in an avalanche. That would explain the lack of footwear and adequate clothing. However, it wouldn’t satisfactorily explain the strange injuries that some of them, such as Lyudmila Dubinnia, sustained.
The book discusses the possibility that some sort of accident occurred involving the military (e.g. parachute-borne air mines being blown off course and descending outside an intended test area). Indeed, McCloskey adduces evidence for the notion that the tent, bodies and belongings of the Dyatlov group had been moved to the eastern slope of Kholat Syakhl, to help cover up something that had happened elsewhere. For example, a photograph of the tent, taken immediately after its supposed discovery, suggested that it had been set up differently from the way that the Dyatlov group would have assembled it (pp. 135-136). At any rate, McCloskey (p. 202) concludes that, in all probability, the deaths resulted from some sort of accident caused by the military.
Chapter 8 of the book sets out what could be called a UFO- or paranormal-based theory, proffered by a Yury Yakimov: the ‘light set’ theory. Indeed, the bulk of the chapter is a translated and condensed presentation in Yakimov’s own words. One night in September 2002, he encountered some unusual light phenomena, which he subsequently discussed with a Valentin Rudkovsky, who’d had a similar experience one night in late August 2002, albeit in a different location. The two men found that looking at the lights attracted their attention. Yakimov suggests that the Dyatlov group encountered this phenomenon, but he proposes, conjecturally (given that neither he nor Rudkovsky apparently suffered any serious physical injury during their experiences), that the ‘light set’ could direct harmful energy emissions at anyone who looked at the lights. He suggests that some of the Dyatlov group were injured in this way, which induced the party to abandon their tent, to get away from the danger. Had they known, they could have avoided injury simply by not looking at the lights. Yakimov suggests that after they descended to the tree line, they may have refrained from lighting a big, warming fire, because they feared that it would attract further unwelcome attention from the dangerous lights. However, in Yakimov’s view, although the ‘light set’ would respond to a human glance, it wouldn’t have reacted to the light of a campfire.
PROBLEMS WITH THE BOOK
I noticed a few typos and grammatical slips, although they don’t seriously affect the readability of the book. However, some passages are unclear. For example, on p. 116, there’s a section headed ‘The lair of the golden woman’, which refers to some sort of study (yet-to-be-published, at the time of McCloskey’s writing) by two other researchers. But McCloskey gives so little detail that the section is virtually meaningless. On p. 122, McCloskey refers to a couple of bombers that flew “north-west” from a base south of Kiev (Ukraine) to the northern Urals. He should have said “north-east”. On p. 126, he suggests that the Dyatlov group was at “high altitude”. However, even if they’d been on the very summit of Mount Otorten, they would hardly have been at high altitude, since it’s a mountain of very modest height.
Despite its minor flaws, I found this book a compelling read. In my view, McCloskey has successfully amassed a lot of interesting information and speculation about a very intriguing mystery. Sadly, though, given the passage of time, I doubt whether we’ll ever know for sure what led to the tragic deaths of the Dyatlov group.
on 14 January 2014
This would have been an indispensable guide to the Dyatlov Pass mystery if it wasn't for the fact that the two other full-length studies of it that appeared in 2013 were both better, containing genuinely original and insightful material that this book lacks. The study by Lobatchev et al, 'Dyatlov Pass Keeps Its Secret', is superior by dint of giving verbatim access to the search parties' testimonies, the autopsy reports, a detailed analysis of the weather in the region at the time of the incident and a detailed discussion of how on earth the Dyatlov group's footprints could have still been visible 25 days after they left them (incredibly - albeit freakishly - this turns out to have been possible). Donnie Eichar's 'Dead Mountain' comes up trumps thanks to the author's visits to the sites of the actual events and his interview with Yuri Yudin, the only member of the group that turned back (thus saving his life). By contrast 'Mountain of the Dead' fails to provide any such riches.
So what does it give us, apart from a cover that is faintly distasteful? Well, for starters, the author has done a lot of background reading. As a result, his trawl through the wide range of theories and speculations that have been offered to explain the Dyatlov Pass tragedy is thorough and all-encompassing. Not afraid to grapple with the more outlandish theories surrounding the incident, 'Mountain of the Dead' also provides some useful biographical background on each of the nine who lost his or her life together with an interesting survey of the historical context. It's an easy read, too, and if it's the only book you've read on the Dyatlov Pass incident it'll probably leave you wanting more. Best to start here, then, before moving on to the other, better, studies.