Precisely 61 years ago, a band of skiers trekking through the Ural Mountains stashed food, extra skis, and a well-worn mandolin in a valley to pick up on the way back from their expedition. In a moment of lightheartedness, one drew up a fake newspaper with headlines about their trip: “According to the latest information, abominable snowmen live in the northern Urals.” Their excess equipment stored away, the group began moving toward the slope of Peak 1079, known among the region’s indigenous people as “Dead Mountain.” A photograph showed the lead skiers disappearing into sheets of whipping snow as the weather worsened.
Later that night, the nine experienced trekkers burst out of their tent half-dressed and fled to their deaths in a blizzard. Some of their corpses were found with broken bones; one was missing her tongue. For decades, few people beyond the group’s friends and family were aware of the event. It only became known to the wider public in 1990, when a retired official’s account ignited a curiosity that soon metastasized.
Today, the “Dyatlov Pass incident,” named after one of the students on the trek, Igor Dyatlov, has become Russia’s biggest unsolved mystery, a font of endless conspiracy theories. Aliens, government agents, “Arctic dwarves”—and yes, even abominable snowmen—have at various points been blamed for the deaths. One state-television show regularly puts self-appointed experts through a theatrical lie-detector test to check their outlandish explanations.