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

By MG Mason - July 5, 2016

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.

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.

Sweat, Tears and Digital Ink

By Rachel - June 4, 2016

Before I get into the book, you need the backstory: back in April, my boyfriend and I drove up to Boston and at night we were watching YouTube videos of an old lady playing video games (she’s absolutely adorable and calls the people that watch her videos her grandkids! My heart is melting just thinking about it!) and she began a new game based on a true story. I thought it was incredibly interesting, so we found a book about the incident and bought it so I could read it ASAP.

The story is crazy. Basically, in 1959 a group of nine very experienced skiers went to a mountain in Russia. The group kept extensive journals and logs about their progress on Mount Otorten and everything was going well. On February 1st the logs stop. No one hears from them even weeks after they should have returned. Search parties are sent out, and the bodies are found.

Rather, the bodies were found in a very odd and mysterious way.

They were found in an area that was not where they were supposed to be – almost 9 miles from their original destination. Their tent had been slashed open from the inside as if in a panic – say whaaaaat? The search party then found the first group of people (five out of nine) with a crudely made fire from the limbs of a nearby tree that they had climbed. They were found with barely any warm clothes on and no shoes at all. Two of the members had frozen next to their fire, with their hands and feet charred as if they had stuck them directly into their fire. That group also contained three members who were found dead in straight line, crawling towards their tent.

The the second portion of the group was found closer to the tent, hidden under what looked like a makeshift shelter from the elements. These skiers were found with unidentifiable internal injuries and little to no external injuries other than frostbite.

What happened to this group? Fifty-seven years after this mysterious incident, still no conclusion has been made as to what occurred on February 1st, 1959. But Mountain of the Dead: The Dyatlov Pass Incident by Keith McCloskey provides quite a few theories that you can choose from. Here’s my issue with this book, and I’ll go right out and say it now: these theories are ridiculous. Some of them make some sense (such as a group fight, or an attack by the local tribes) and you can find truth to them and somewhat understand what could have happened. But for the most part they were just far fetched.

For example, one of the biggest “possibilities” is the Yury Yakimov theory. This is the idea that some sort of extraterrestrial thing with blinding lights and little henchmen with floating orbs that respond only to a human glance could have caused the panic that occurred on that fateful night.

Now I’ll be the first to say that I believe in something else. I believe that there are some sorts of extra terrestrial things out there. Maybe not in the green body, big upside-down tear shaped face creatures. But definitely I believe that there is some kind of life elsewhere, and that weird things happen all the time. I believe that.

What I don’t believe, is that this Yury Yakimov guy saw these beings in 2002 – more than 40 years later – somewhat near the town where these students died, and somehow I’m supposed to believe that they are the reason behind the tragic incident?

Look, I’ve believed crazier things. But something about the fact that this happened 43 years after, basically just in the greater surrounding area – not even on the frickin’ mountain they died on, and was only seen by two people in 2002 and never again – at least that was made public – just doesn’t make sense to me. The fact that this is such a plausible theory that there’s not only a chapter designated for it, but a 34 page chapter for it, is just ridiculous.

The next theory that they had was that the military caused the incident. Keep in mind, again, I can believe in military cover-ups and things like that. But the fact that this book has at least a total of 60 pages dedicated specifically to military cover-ups or bombings, or Infrasound weapons, or accidental launches of ICBMs without anyone else noticing…. it’s just too much. I can’t hop on that train.

Despite the theories, the book has a lot of good detail, so let’s get into that.

The book starts with what happened as stated by eyewitnesses as they began their journey up the mountain, as well as using what is written in their diaries, and what was found after their deaths. They go into a LOT of detail on the autopsies which I found extremely interesting and helpful in coming up with my own conclusions. Some of the marks and bruises and internal injuries, and even the causes of death just seem very strange, and I thought it was absolutely awesome to be able to read the full autopsy reports.

Unfortunately, I feel like after those first couple chapters, this book just fluctuated up and down. It was pretty much a reading roller coaster. Sometimes it would be super interesting, and sometimes it would be kind of crap, or at least really slow. When it was good, it was really good. But about 30% of the book was just really slow and far-fetched.

As far as this being a good book, as in a well written and well researched book – I think it lives up to my expectations. But as far as it being an exciting book to read, I would say that it was really only like 75% exciting and the rest was just filler.

Honestly, I was pretty disappointed with this book. Maybe it’s just because I was so looking forward to it. I mean, I’m incredibly interested in the stories behind murders, and strange deaths – I’m just very interested in crime and things of that nature so this seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to read a new awesome book. But sadly it was less about what happened on their journey and more about trying to find ANY SOLUTION, no matter how ridiculous to fill in the gaps that are left by the mysterious incident.

For those interested in this kind of book or topic, I would suggest you read it, but don’t waste your time on the boring parts. If you’re reading it and are like, “wow. That’s stupid.” just skip over it, because the best parts of this book are honestly the true parts of this book, and not the billions of theories.

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