Sample DP History IA: The Dyatlov Pass Mystery


The Dyatlov Pass Mystery


To what extent did the failure to prepare lead to the death of the hikers during the Dyatlov Pass Incident?

May 2022
Word count: 2,195

Section 1 - Identification and evaluation of sources
This investigation will focus on the topic of “To what extent did the failure to prepare lead to the death of the hikers during the Dyatlov Pass Incident” which took place in February 1959. The two key sources that will be analysed and evaluated come from a science team investigating the incident as well as a whole site dedicated to the incident. 

Source One
Solly, Meilan. “Have Scientists Finally Unraveled the 60-Year Mystery Surrounding NINE Russian HIKERS' DEATHS?”, Smithsonian Institution, 29 Jan. 2021, ass-incident-180976886/.
The origin gives the article a high value as the Smithsonian institute and their magazine are known for publishing researched topics and subjects regarding history, science, popular culture, art and innovation and the magazine is only released once a month. The Smithonian institute is also the largest museum, education and research complex and is founded by the U.S Government giving the source a lot of credibility. The lead author Dr. Johan Gaume and the co-author Prof. Dr. Alexander M. Puzrin both have their expertise in geomechanics and mechanics making their experiment presented more credible. However, both the Authors focus on a scientific approach in solving this mystery and neither have any expertise in history, which is a huge limitation as certain factors such as diaries from the hikers as well as pictures taken and the backgrounds of the hikers were not taken into account.
The purpose is to use modern simulation methods to present the theory of an avalanche contributing to the cause of the deaths of the hikers. This is of value as it presents scientific evidence in order to accurately explain the incident. Furthermore, it isn’t meant to be a perfect solution, but rather another aspect that should be taken into account when looking at the incident which is of great value to someone investigating the Dyatlov Pass Incident. However, by focusing mainly on the scientific factors, historical evidence was barely used to support their theory, and just took geographical information into account as well as the information on the placement of the tents last set up by the hikers. Diaries and photographs taken by the hikers were often not used at all to support their arguments which are based on their scientific simulations.

Source Two
Pavlov, Igor, and Teodora Hadjiyska. “1079 The Overwhelming Force OF Dyatlov Pass.”
Dyatlov Pass, 8 May 2021,
The origin is a website dedicated to the Dyatlov Pass incident. It’s of high value as it presents all the gathered evidence from the Hikers, for example photographs taken that researchers were able to recover. It was created by Igor Pavlov, a nuclear Physicist who has been investigating the Dyatlov Pass incident since 2009 and focused on “the analysis of archival documents and witnesses recollections”. He published a book about the incident and worked with leading researchers of the tragedy. This is of great value because Pavlov is considered the most knowledgeable and the most respected researcher in the field of the Dyatlov Pass mystery as he has collected and analysed all known evidence gathered, has a large background in investigating similar mysteries and is regarded as the “Author of most well-known textual transcripts of handwritten documents of 1959, such as criminal case files, diary entries, and testimonies of the search group members.” However, the limitation is that these are independent researchers, and although Pavlov is a respected investigator, his partner Teodora Hadjiyska brings no value other than supporting Pavlov in his research. Also, the source is a collection of the evidence and theories, instead of presenting new research on gathered information. Theories presented in this source are kept short to present as many as possible instead of focusing on one in depth.

The purpose, which is to present the incident to new researchers and investigators with all the evidence and theories regarding the incident. This is of value as it presents all photographs, diaries and maps from the hikers and is considered the best source for resources required to investigate the topic as well as looking into theories to help come to a conclusion of what could have happened. However, it comes with the limitation of not presenting a new angle to help build a new, more plausible theory. The source focuses on just presenting evidence and does not use/explain the importance of the gathered information.


Section 2: Investigation

In early February of 1959, a group of nine hikers decided to go on an expedition in the western Soviet Union along a mountain range. They were a mix of experienced men and women, who didn’t know that this would be their last expedition. Even after a criminal investigation and the recovery of journals and photographs, the case stays unsolved to this day.1 With the finding of the corpses, more questions arose due to the mysterious conditions of the bodies. The majority of them died due to hypothermia or injuries, radioactive clothing items, a lack of clothing worn at the time of death2 as well as the condition of their built camp with tents cut open from the inside,3 made the case even harder to solve. Over time, more theories were proposed, trying to explain the conditions of the hikers' bodies and what events took place that resulted in the death of the professional hikers.
In 2000, a group was established to honor the hikers as well as find out what resulted in the tragedy. The president, Yuri Kuntsevich, stated that the majority of Russians believe in one of two theories, both of which are based on classified military information such as secret weapon testing ranges or mercenaries such as American spies.4 Kuntsevich believes that “a missile launch of some kind went disastrously wrong, inflicting severe injuries on some of the skiers and forcing the group to flee their tent, at which point they either froze to death or were killed by military observers.”5 It explains the radiation found on articles of clothing. The Cold War saw a rise in tensions between the USSR and America, both of which made efforts in nuclear weapon advancement6. The detonation of missiles would explain why some clothing items had radioactive traces on them. It also explains and debunks another theory which claims that UFOs are the cause of death. A group of people interviewed claimed to have seen orbs of lights that they interpreted as UFOs around the time of the hiker's death. This could be explained as being sightings of debris left by a missile, however others explain the sightings of the flying orbs as a result of the soviet space program.7 The final piece of evidence that would support this is the last photograph taken by the hikers that was able to be recovered. The Photo depicts a very bright light surrounded by darkness. This picture is often used to support the UFO theory, however it could also depict a soviet missile flying or exploding.8
This theory comes with several flaws. Firstly, there is no recorded evidence of nuclear missiles being launched in 19599. The sighting of fire orbs can also be explained through the soviet space program and the radioactive traces on the clothing can be explained when looking into the professions of the hikers. Yuri Krivonischenko has worked in a nuclear Facility and Aleksander Kolevatov has worked as a nuclear physicist10. Both are very likely to have been exposed to radiation that has then transferred to their clothing. The final picture, although mysterious, and while it could be a picture of a flying and or exploding missile that has no official mention as of yet, it could very much be any other light source such as a camp fire which has also been found on the campsite. Therefore, although this is a wide spread theory, it provides many flaws that can be easily explained away as well as a lack of evidence to support the theory itself.
A more recent theory by a group of researchers using modern technology provides a different explanation. They believe that the cause of death was katabatic winds, causing an avalanche, taking the hikers by surprise, forcing them to leave the campsite in their efforts to survive.11This explains why the bodies were recovered significantly far away from their campsite. Next to two of the bodies, an improvised camp fire was discovered. The search team also notes that the hikers were significantly underdressed, lacking clothing that would be expected to be worn. This was most unusual as the temperature at the time would have been around -30 degrees celsius. It explains why they left underdressed, as they would have needed to escape in a hurry. Furthermore, it explains why the tent was cut open from the inside as they cut open the tent to leave. The improvised fire would be an attempt at locating the campsite as well as the attempt at finding shelter to survive, which they were didn’t12. Some bodies were also found to have severe injuries, such as Semyon Alekseevich Zolotryov who died of severe chest trauma, as well as Nikolay Vladimirovich Thibeaux-Brignolle who died of a fatal skull injury.13 It explains this as the large amounts of snow at such a speed would have crushed them resulting in these injuries.14 Evidence supporting the theory is that there were reports of strong snowstorms during and after the supposed time of death.
It, however, has flaws as well. When the search party located the campsite, the hikers' belongings were still intact and placed at camp. Footprints were also discovered which is impossible if an avalanche forced them to leave the campsite, especially because the footprints resembled the pattern of walking away calmly. The tent was also recovered with only a thin layer of snow covering it, possibly coming from regular snowfall as it would have been expected in the middle of winter.15 The conditions of the campsite do not resemble the aftermath of an avalanche and the trails left by the hikers do not indicate any evidence supporting the theory.
The most plausible explanation for what events occurred during the incident is the failure of the hikers themselves. The leader, Igor Dyatlov, brought a homemade stove to the expedition, and traces of food found at the last campsite suggest that the stove has been in use.16Also, one picture that was taken a day before death was recovered showing one hiker with a torn up jacket17, that could have been damaged through fire, suggesting that the stove caused issues throughout the expedition. The so-called “Stove Theory” suggests that the stove was used, and then after removing the exhaust pipe that led out outside, it reignited, filling the tent with smoke. This would explain why they needed to cut open the tent from the inside, as this would ventilate the tent and provide an escape. Leaving the tent in a panic, they regrouped and proceeded to move down the mountain in hopes of finding shelter, which explains the footprints with no sign of panic. 18 The slope was noticeably steep which was found out by the researchers of the avalanche theory19 explaining the severe injuries. They built a campfire in the hopes to get warmth and to prevent death from hypothermia and to look for either their old campsite or a new shelter, indicated by traces of climbing found on a tree nearby. 20 However, due to the clothes having been left behind, causing the death of most hikers, the others died due to the lack of treatment of their injuries. Although this theory does not explain perfectly how they got injured, and why the clothing was behind, it explains why they cut open the tent, as well as explaining why they left the camp site camly.
The Dyatlov Pass Incident leaves room for interpretation when looking at the course of events. Based on the theories presented as well as looking back at the evidence gathered from the incident, I believe that the “Stove Theory” is most plausible. The unexplained finds are explained in a way that leads to a logical timeline fitting the found evidence, unlike the other theories that disregard or are contradicted by the evidence. Therefore I believe that human failure is the reason they died during the incident. The stove was a makeshift build, the removal of coals was not done properly causing smoke which led to the evacuation of the tent and the fleeing of the campsite in the hopes of finding shelter, which led to their death.

Section 3: Reflection
The investigation proved to be more complex for historians than expected. The Dyatlov Pass incident is an unsolved mystery. Although, through modern technology as well as new knowledge, many new theories have been proposed, the mystery has no concrete/final answer. Historians have to use evidence that has been gathered over sixty years ago to come to a conclusion. The evidence can best be interpreted through the eyes of medicine and geography, which makes historians looking at this event subject to what others say with no means to review the claims properly.
Furthermore, evidence can be twisted and disregarded to support one's own narrative. The mystery leaves open ended questions that are tried to be answered by connecting points that might not be connected at all, or not mentioning/putting weight on different points to support the story they want to tell and it's up to the historian to determine if the connected points lead to a suitable timeline that leads to a realistic conclusion.
Historians will always try to explain situations based on the larger picture of the cold war and “the russians” without looking at separate individuals. The mystery only resurfaced because of interest from individuals and not because of a large historical value. They did not care about the solution of the incident before and if there would have been no public interest, there probably would never have been so many proposed theories and investigations. As the incident took place in the Soviet Union, access to documents was a lot harder or impossible in comparison to now where historians can use modern technology and interpretations to come to a conclusion.
Lastly, it’s difficult to find reliable sources for the Dyatlov Pass incident. Most sources are digital and therefore the accuracy and reliability suffers dramatically. There are a few books available, however these are very broad and explain the event rather than really analyse it.

Wilkins, Clark L. A Compelling Unknown Force Aka "Six Hours To Live". Clark L. Wilkins, 2014.
Robin George Andrews. “Has Science Solved One of History’s Greatest Adventure Mysteries?” Science, National Geographic, 28 Jan. 2021, ov. Accessed 23 Nov. 2021. Aa6H. “Dyatlov Pass.” BBC News, BBC News, 2018, Accessed 23 Nov. 2021.
Preston, Douglas. “Has an Old Soviet Mystery at Last Been Solved?” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 7 May 2021, Accessed 23 Nov. 2021.
“Soviet Atomic Program - 1946.” Atomic Heritage Foundation, 2014, Accessed 23 Nov. 2021.
“Secret Launches/ UFO in Dyatlov Pass Incident.”, 2013, Accessed 23 Nov. 2021.
Mikhaĭlov Victor N. Catalog of Worldwide Nuclear Testing. Begell House, 1999
Smithsonian Magazine, and Meilan Solly. “Have Scientists Finally Unraveled the 60-Year Mystery Surrounding Nine Russian Hikers’ Deaths?” Smithsonian Magazine, 29 Jan. 2021, nt-180976886/. Accessed 23 Nov. 2021.
Информация о походе гр. Дятлова - hibinaud. “Информация о походе гр. Дятлова - Hibinaud.”, 2021, Accessed 23 Nov. 2021.
“Dyatlov Expedition New Theory | ARCDOC - Arkeologisk Dokumentation.”, 2019, Accessed 24 Nov. 2021.
“1079 the Overwhelming Force of Dyatlov Pass.” Dyatlov Pass, 2021, Accessed 24 Nov. 2021.