An explosion in the mountains, a hurricane wind and the loss of a leader: this is what happened in the last expedition of Yuri Kuntsevich

The expedition of the Dyatlov foundation was haunted by a series of incidents

August 20, 2021. All right reserved E1.ru. Author and photojournalist Andrey Guselnikov

In August 2021, the head of the Dyatlov Group Memory Fund, Yuri Kuntsevich, set off on another expedition. The hike turned out to be fatal: after leaving his comrades because of a pain in the knee, on his return to Yekaterinburg, he felt weak, checked himself into a hospital where it turn out he has Covid, and died a few days later.

With him gone the group remained nine strong (like the Dyatlov group in 1959), and troubles haunted the group throughout the entire trek. The whole truth about the last expedition of Kuntsevich to the Dyatlov pass was told by its participant, journalist Andrey Guselnikov.

The expedition gets off from the train in Ivdel
The expedition gets off from the train in Ivdel

In 2020, the annual expedition to the Dyatlov Pass did not take place due to the pandemic, so in 2021, many who wanted to go had big plans. Announcing the trip on my YouTube channel, I said that there will b a surprise - an experiment with a rocket launch from Chistop. One group was supposed to get to the mountain where there was a radar station in the past and on a coordinated day to launch a signal rocket, and the group on the Dyatlov pass to observe the flare of the rocket (25 kilometers away) and launch its own. The results of the experiment could work in favor of two theories: the military and the UFO.

However, this plan had to be abandoned even at the stage of preparation. After counting the days, we realized that the Chistop group would hardly have time to get to the Dyatlov pass, where they would also like to visit on their expedition. In addition, ten days before the start, three of its members (including the head of the Chistop group, Aleksey Korolyov) fell ill with the coronavirus. I note right away that in those days the sick did not intersect with Kuntsevich (in mid-July he left to treat his knee on salt lakes in the Chelyabinsk region).

Another surprise of the trek (including for its participants) was the presence of British journalist Graham Phillips, with whom we have been friends since 2014 - after the war in Donbass. Graham, who usually spends more time in the Russian Federation than in England, this year, due to covid restrictions, was able to come to Russia only in the spring. He was full of energy and desire to travel around cities, look for interesting topics, and make reports. Graham was never an expert on the Dyatlov topic, but, having plunged into it, he became intrigued by the idea of ​​making his own docfilm from the scene. I warned him that the hike would be harsh, but he was ready for the test, declaring before leaving: "I'm obsessed!"

Graham Phillips at the memorial sign to the Dyatlov group, erected by blogger Dmitry Kireev in the village of Vizhay
Graham Phillips at the memorial sign to the Dyatlov group, erected by blogger Dmitry Kireev in the village of Vizhay

- 2 -

Yuri is gone - there are nine of us left

On July 31, we boarded a train, on August 1 we arrived in Ivdel, where a shift truck (KamAZ with a booth) took us in the evening it brought us to the bridge across the Auspiya River (along which the Dyatlov group walked in 1959). There were many stops on the way: at the new memorial sign for the Dyatlov group in Vizhay, at the crossings, in the village of Ushma, where we delivered food to the "main Mansi" Valeriy Anyamov, whom we interviewed with Graham. After spending the night on the bank of Auspiya, on August 2 we set off.

The event that stunned everyone happened at the very first halt: Kuntsevich, whose knee still ached (he walked briskly, but limped, and at the halt complained that it crunched on the go), decided to leave the expedition. He distributed some of the supplies from his backpack to his comrades, keeping only a tent, a sleeping bag and personal belongings. Aleksander Alekseenkov hid his own backpack in the bushes, took Yuri Konstantinovich's backpack and went accompany him back. Farewell to uncle Yuri was very touching: we took a picture for memory, he hugged everyone and left in the direction of Auspiya.

Commemorative photo with the participants of the trek
Commemorative photo with the participants of the trek before Kuntsevich leaving the trek

"Apart from the pain in his knee, he felt good - none of us could have imagined that this would be his last trip."

Andrey Guselnikov

After Kuntsevich splitting, the group was for some time in prostration from the realization that there were nine of us, like the Dyatlov group in 1959. And that, like the Dyatlov group, the tenth participant left us, and his name was also Yuri (only not Yudin, but Kuntsevich). It got scary from these coincidences: someone even offered to curtail the expedition and go home. However, the majority were determined to reach the pass, so the comparison with the Dyatlov became just a topic of jokes: one of the men noticed that we also had two girls (Nastya and Aina), one of whom was immediately "appointed" Zina Kolmogorova, the other - Lyuda Dubinina. Kuntsevich became, of course, Yudin. Well, they found their own spy - not the KGB (Semyon Zolotarev), but British intelligence - Graham Phillips. "Yes, I'm Semyon Zolotaryov!" - he said himself, supporting the topic (although he later admitted to me that he didn't like it).

Important announcement at the break
Important announcement at the break

We settled down for the night at the "Kaska" campsite, and soon Aleksey Vasev, the "bear whisperer", joined us. For many years traveling alone in the Northern Urals, he repeatedly saw and even filmed the "master of the taiga". True, this time he did not have the Ural dog (trained for bears) with him, but there was a boat in his backpack. Lesha wanted to reach the "navels" (stone pillars on the Manpupuner plateau), and on the way back take the rivers flowing south. Although he walked autonomously, all the first days of the trip he spent the evenings with us. Then Shura Alekseenkov returned: he had to cover 30 kilometers in a day, seeing off Kuntsevich and catching up with the group.

- 3 -

Shamil's salute and Graham's departure

Having overcome 25 kilometers of the trail along Auspiya (in places very swampy), by the evening of the second day we got to the campsite a kilometer from the outlier (monument) on the Dyatlov pass. "Kuntsevich's camp" - that's how the participants of the expedition call this place: for many years it is here that the base camp of the expeditions of the Dyatlov foundation has been located.

After setting up their tents and dinner, some of the group decided to go up to the ridge to the Dyatlov group monument. Firstly, it was necessary to check if the drop-off had arrived yet with food for us. Secondly, Shamil Sabirov invited everyone to the "event". Once he served in Afghanistan, among his awards there is a medal for the capture of Kabul and an "order for the pass" (after another, of course). Putting on a military uniform with awards and going up to the monument, Shamil saluted the dead members of the Dyatlov group with a shot from a jet lighting cartridge, after which he gave Graham and me a short commentary. "I've been dealing with Dyatlov's case for seven years now, solving this mystery and many times wanted to leave, and every time I was pushed back. Finally, I realized: I am doing what He wants!" - Said Shamil, pointing to the sky.

Afghan Shamil Sabirov saluted the Dyatlov group
Afghan Shamil Sabirov saluted the Dyatlov group

Then he told us his theory of the death of the Dyatlov group. It is extravagant, but, as Yuri Kuntsevich said, everyone has the right to their own version. According to Sabirov, on the night of February 2, hikers spent the night not on Mt. Kholat Syakhl, but not far from the top of Mt. Otorten, near the cliff to the mountain lake Lunthusaptur, and ended up in a nuclear test zone. Some of the Dyatlov group fell off a cliff (which explains the fractured ribs of Lyuda Dubinina and Semyon Zolotaryov), some fled into the forest and froze. Then they and the tent were moved to the slope of Kholat Syakhl - "to hide the fact that nuclear weapons tests were taking place during the moratorium". (Wikipedia)

We found the drop-off under the outlier. Graham was most delighted with the sweets that had arrived. But soon his mood worsened: at the camp at dinner he had a confrontation with Shamil. The quarrel took place in front of my eyes: the Afghan began to ask what exactly does Graham plan to do with the footage and where would he post it. "This is some kind of interrogation!" - the Briton was indignant. "I'm just worried that you might have problems," said Sabirov, explaining that the death of the Dyatlov group is still a state secret.

A new monument at the site where the Dyatlov group tent stood
A new monument at the site where the Dyatlov group's tent stood

Graham couldn't let go what others might consider an innocent remark. "I'm leaving tomorrow," he said to me in the tent when we had already gone to bed. For a long time I tried to persuade him not to take sudden decisions, not to leave the group, but he was adamant. "Do you know why I survived in Donbass? - he said. - Instinct, Andryusha, instinct. After the departure of Yuri Konstantinovich, everything went wrong. And it will only get worse."

In the end, we agreed that we would spend the next day at the pass, and then I would accompany Graham to Ilyich's base, from where he could leave for Ivdel. The next morning we went up to the monument again, but Graham did not come with us. "I'll wait for you here," said the Briton. When we returned three hours later, he was gone.

As the people who remained in the camp later told, Graham saw what a dense road traffic between the Ilyich base and the Dyatlov pass, and realized that he could easily leave with a ride, packed up his backpack and left. At first I was worried about him, but then I calmed down: the ATV jolly riders arriving at the monument said that they had met him on the way. I thought that the smiling and outgoing Briton would not disappear (in the end, he really hitchhiked to Yekaterinburg).

- 4 -

Storm on Otorten and gas explosion

The next two days of the expedition each devoted to their own plans. I had a mission to get to the Mattavchakhl mountain, where the ashes of the hermit Oleg Borodin are buried, and at the same time to finally visit the top of Otorten. Shamil was also going to Otorten: he was eager to conduct an experiment there, similar to Chistop's: to launch a rocket from the top or a spur of the mountain in order to check whether it will be seen from the Dyatlov pass (and vice versa). Ayna agreed to keep him company. After discussing the plans, we came to a decision that it would be better to go the four of us together.

There are 20 kilometers along the ridge from the pass to the mountain [Otorten]. In the middle of the route the weather, which had spoiled us with the sun in the morning, suddenly deteriorated: a strong wind rose, and it began to rain. The last kilometers before Otorten it became clear that we were in a hurricane strong storm: when I stood and waited on the ridge for the guys to catch up with me, leaning on the poles, the wind almost blew me off the slope.

Mountain shelter modules
Mountain shelter modules that saved the expedition members (panorama photo)

It is clear that in such a situation it is necessary to look for protection in the forest, but between Kholat Syakhl and Otorten the ridge is wide, there are two, two and a half kilometers to the nearest forest, and walking on a wet rocky slopes would be very dangerous. All our hope was on mountain modules one and a half kilometers from the summit. When they emerged from the fog, we were overwhelmed with joy! At such moments, you especially well understand how powerless a person is before nature and that the Dyatlov group who left their tent on February 2 did not really have a chance to survive the night in the wind and cold. Another hour or two, and we would have started freezing for real.

The desire to get warm as soon as possible became caused an accident, which almost led to a tragedy. Shamil lit a gas burner to boil tea (and then he began to cook rice), and because there was no table, he put a gas burner with attached container of dichlorvos on the stove. I started lighting the stove. The fact that the gas cylinder should not be placed on the stove did not occur to him or to me. Most likely our judgement was clouded and we were distracted pounding from the cold.

Lighting the stove in the mountain shelter
Lighting the stove in the mountain shelter

At some point, the water in the rice pot almost boiled away, and I jumped outside to bring in rainwater from the bucket. A few seconds later the gas cylinder exploded, and I saw Marat running around. The door was knocked out, and the house that had sheltered us began to blow through. A gas explosion burned Shamil's face and hand, Ayne's hair, eyebrows and face, and Marat had huge bruises on his thigh. We were at loss what to do.

In a difficult situation, fellow tourists helped: first, as if by magic, three UAZs drove out of the fog - a team of ATV riders from Moscow, Kazan and Yekaterinburg, whom we had met the day before at the Dyatlov pass. They took Ayna and Shamil to the UAZ to warm up (they immediately poured alcohol for them there), lifted the door and helped me to put it from the inside of the house, screwing it with self-tapping screws.

Cliff from Otorten and view of Lake Lunthusaptur
Cliff from Otorten and view of Lake Lunthusaptur (panorama photo)

And soon Ruslan, a "medic", came from a group of tourists who settled in a neighboring module: he had a special plaster for burns and ointment in his first-aid kit, with which he treated Shamil's face and hand. In total, there were thirteen of us in two groups: to spend the night in two four-bed shelters, we had to sleep two people on a bunk. In the end, despite all the emergency, everyone lied down and slept.

- 5 -

In the morning, the neighbors shared their burner so we could make breakfast, and once again treated our wounded. There could be no question of any other plans (a lake, a hermit's house) - the main thing was to get the victims to the base camp. The weather had mercy on us: the wind was still strong, but the rain started falling only in the evening. We walked twenty kilometers to the pass in six hours.

Return journey from Otorten to the pass
Return journey from Otorten to the pass

End of the hike

When we arrived at the camp, Shura Alekseenkov, assessing the situation, ordered us to leave the next morning in order to get Shamil medical assistance as soon as possible. Having been on duty at the pass for about an hour, we caught a group of tourists in three UAZs - the drivers agreed to take our victim on board. The very next day he was in the Ivdel hospital, where his burns were treated.

The way back to the landing site was also not easy. It rained all day, and by evening we were completely drenched and frozen. It is not so difficult to survive and warm up in the taiga if one has a tarpaulin, a saw, an ax and some skills. In Ushma we again stopped at Valeriy Anyamov's. Near his house there is a free satellite phone near his house. We learned that Shamil was already in Yekaterinburg and that everything was in order with him. Shamil told us that Kuntsevich was hospitalized with Covid. We couldn't get through to Yuri Konstantinovich himself: his phone did not answer. We returned to Yekaterinburg on August 11 and then learned that Kuntsevich had died in intensive care. "Apparently, his soul was restless: he waited for his expedition to return to the city, and only after that he died," says Marat.

Free satellite phone installed in Ushma
Free satellite phone installed in Ushma

Later, discussing Uncle Yura's illness with the participants in the expedition and with Yuri Konstantinovich's assistants, we tried to understand where he could have contracted the coronavirus. One version was in the train. I remembered that there was a grandpa traveling in one of the compartments, who coughed. Another version is on the way back from Ivdel to Yekaterinburg, which Yuri Kuntsevich had to travel by bus. According to the incubation period (an average of three days), the train is more probable. Kuntsevich was hospitalized on the night of August 5. But none of the participants in the trek got sick even though two people shared a tent with him for one night*. It's a shame that he didn't get vaccinated.

* After the publication of this article Shura Alekseenkov also tested positive for Covid although he went on the trek fully vaccinated with Sputnik. (ed.)

After his death and on the day of Kuntsevich's funeral, many words were said about what a wonderful person he was. If you knew how things would turn out, we, the participants in his last expedition, would have canceled any of our plans and would do everything in our power to save Yuri Konstantinovich. There is an opinion among us that his memory must be immortalized at the Dyatlov pass. For example, there is an idea to install a plaque on the outlier rock next year, where the obelisk is located to the Dyatlov group, because he devoted his whole life to solving the mystery of their death. And be sure to - at the campsite one kilometer from the obelisk, which hikers have long called "Kuntsevich's camping ground".

Yuri Kuntsevich from Yekaterinburg studied the circumstances of the tragedy at the Dyatlov pass for many years. Earlier this year, he told E1.RU if we will ever find out the truth about this story. The researcher died at the age of 74 with coronavirus.

Photos by Andrey Guselnikov and Dmitriy Nikolaevich


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