Book Review: Mountain of the Dead: The Dyatlov Pass Incident by Keith McCloskey

Who has heard of the Dyatlov Pass Incident? I had not long before buying this book some time in 2014. I was fascinated by the strange yet tragic events of the case enough to want to buy this book. Despite the author admitting that not much evidence exists due to the secretive nature of the events, he has tried to piece together the events and provide an overview of theories.

I am not going to provide my own theory as this is a book review. Needless to say, the events on the Mountain of the Dead that led to the death of 9 young Russians in Jan-Feb 1959 is as curious as it is tragic. They had gone to Siberia on a “ski tourist” trip, a Communist Party sanctioned trip to build teamwork, morale and fitness. They were slightly off course, probably due to weather conditions, but were highly trained and followed all the precautions. Quite why in the early hours of the 2nd February these nine people left most of their clothes and cut their way out of their tent (in temperatures around -20C) then split into two groups, moving in opposite directions (some barefoot) has never been satisfactorily explained. What is also not explained to complete satisfaction is how some of them died.

One woman was found without her tongue or the muscle that joins it to the mouth. Despite some later reports, it had not been “torn out” – the autopsy simply says it was “missing”.

One of the men had brain damage but no brain trauma. A third suffered trauma equivalent to that of being hit by a car in conditions completely unsuited to any vehicles. He may have fallen a long way onto some rocks, but other injuries are inconsistent with this as there were few skin abrasions. Most had “deeply tanned skin” – unusual for ethnic Russians at the best of times.

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Anyway, this is a book review. The author is keen for you to understand that at the heart of the mystery is the death of nine people, most of whom died of hypothermia. We hear about their characters, background and personality. He does not want us to forget we are talking about people’s lives.

Also dotted through the book are references to the political situation between Russia and The West. Some of this is relevant as it pertains to how the investigation proceeded and the secret government testing that may have gone on nearby. Some of this feeds into the theories that come later in the book.

What is clear is that the investigation was so shoddy that had it been a modern crime scene, detectives would have lost their jobs. The crew were ill-equipped in one of the most remote areas of (then) Soviet Russia. Nevertheless, the anomalies continued to mount up and a picture began to form of what transpired in those hours between cutting their way out of the tent and their respective deaths. Why did those found nearly a mile away decide to light a fire and not attempt to return to camp? What startled them?

It’s divided into short chapters that stick with a single subject, making it easy to navigate for reference purposes later on. It really is a book designed for the ebook generation. Not a problem, this is welcome. It reads well. I was surprised how emotionally engaged I felt with these victims and the empathy I felt for their situation. Read about their journal entries and the photographs they took on the trip. Some of these photos are available on the internet and once again, this brings you closer to the events.

Chapters 6, 7 and 8 each cover theories about the events with chapter 8 presenting one of the kookiest (somebody else writes this chapter). This is not really in keeping with the rest of the book. Up to this point, the author had dealt only in facts. This “The Truth is Out There” conspiracy theory is too much of a leap.

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