Zolotaryov's meltdown


Author Aleksandr Surkov

All events and characters are fictional, any resemblance to real events and people is purely coincidental.

The tent partly cleared of the snow, 27 Feb 1959

This story turned out to be so confusing due to the fact that a so-called "legal impasse" happened in the case. A general example for this is when there is no direct evidence, and a lot of circumstantial evidence leads to a person who has an alibi.

In this regard, this case cannot be officially closed, but it is possible to re-enact what happened, if you do not try to fit within a legal framework.

After analyzing the personalities of the hikers, one can understand that they are all smart and friendly, only two stand out among all - Igor and Semyon.

Igor was a unique person with a specific character. As a student of the radio engineering faculty, studying in the 5th year, he was offered to stay at the department. He was an inventor and successfully implemented his developments in hiking. For the last two years, he was the chairman of the UPI tour section.

In addition to many positive qualities, he was excessively demanding, both to himself and to others, and since he possessed extraordinary abilities, he often demanded from people what, unlike him, was difficult for them to accomplish. Because of this distinctive feature, Igor already had conflicts, so now only selected candidates who are able to fulfill all of his deliberately complicated requirements go on hikes with him.

Semyon is a key figure in this tragedy. He has a difficult fate and a difficult character. He has no family of his own, no friends or comrades. He does not have good relationship with the management and constantly changes his place of work.

Krivonischenko camera film 1 frame 3

Semyon is a key figure in this tragedy. He has a difficult fate and a difficult character. He has no family of his own, no friends or comrades. He does not have good relationship with the management and constantly changes his place of work.

To understand what happened in his last trek, we need to analyze his biography.

Semyon is a Kuban Cossack. At the age of 20, he was drafted into the army and after six months of training, in May 1942, he went to fight on the fronts from Stalingrad to Berlin. During his service he did not receive a single wound and is awarded four military awards. After the war, he tries to make a military career, but a year later falls under the all-Union mass demobilization. After that, in August 1946, he entered the Minsk Institute of Physical Education, and in June 1950 he graduated and received the qualification of a teacher of physical education.

After graduating from the Minsk Institute, Semyon returns to his place in the North Caucasus and gets a job as a physical teacher at the Pyatigorsk Pedagogical Institute. After working for only 4 months he receives a severe reprimand with a warning, and he leaves of his own accord. His next job is as a physical teacher at the Pyatigorsk Pharmaceutical Institute, located in a nearby building. There he will work for 3.5 years, receive two reprimands, one of them for rude and tactless treatment of students. In 1954 he will be fired for absenteeism, and receives another negative characterization.

Semyon moved from Pyatigorsk to the neighboring town of Lermontov, where he worked for 4 years as a physical education instructor in a secondary school until December 1958.

- 2 -

Since 1951, Semyon, having completed course for instructor and at the same time as a physical teacher, he begins working during the holidays as an instructor in local tour centers. In December 1953, Semyon receives the second category in tourism, with which he will go on a hike with Igor to receive the first category.

Since 1952, Semyon has been living in a civil marriage. In February 1956, they had a son, and six months later, in August, the common-law wife leaves Semyon, taking the child with her.

Semyon, plunges into depression, decides to radically change his life. Since he was not a sociable person but he had to work with people, in particular with children, it became a burden for him. He decides to find a quiet work in a managerial position at one of the tour centers.

For a managerial position, he needs to have first category of tourism. In addition Semyon plans to get the title of Master of Sports in Tourism, which is very honorable. He wants to surprise everyone with his achievement.

Zolotaryov document fragment

To become a Master of Sports, he needs to go on treks of each type of tourism: hiking, water, as well as winter skiing. He has to go on treks in the first and second categories of difficulty for each type of tourism. Next, he will need a winter ski trip of the third (highest) category of difficulty. In the summer he could lead a trek of the highest category, complete the requirement for the title Master of Sports, and by autumn get a job at one of the tour centers in the North Caucasus, in a position up to a director.

At the beginning of 1957, Semyon fired up by this idea makes the easiest plan to achieve his goal.

For the next two years he will live this dream.

In the summer of 1957, Semyon goes hiking in the Caucasus. At the beginning of 1958 he goes on a ski trek in the Carpathians, and in the summer he goes on a water trek in Altai. There Semyon meets someone who has friends in the UPI tour section. Semyon asks to help him get into a winter hike of the highest category. That person promised to write to a friend and explain the situation, and agreed that as soon as he received an answer, he would forward the letter to Semyon.

In September 1958, Semyon returns from Altai to school in Lermontov and awaits the letter with information about a winter trek in UPI.

At the beginning of December, Semyon receives a letter in which he is informed about the planned trek at the end of January, and a recommendation to contact Sergey (Sogrin).

The school director refuses to give leave for a hike in the middle of the school year and Semyon, having caused another scandal, quits.

Semyon is looking for a job closer to Sverdlovsk and in mid-December gets a job as an instructor at the Kourovskaya tour base. Before the New Year, having received permission to hike, he goes to his home in Lermontov for the New Year's holidays. At home, suffering from loneliness, Semyon decides to tattoo himslef in memory of his only friends, the ones he had while fighting the war. Now he has nothing to fear that with such tattoos he will not be hired to work with children, because he is no longer going to work as a teacher.

Zolotaryov tattoos

- 3 -

After the New Year holidays, Semyon goes to Sverdlovsk, where he finds and meets Sergey, who takes him into his group, and even provides Semyon with accomodation at his apartment. Semyon is preparing with Sergey and 3 days before the hike he finds out that Igor's group is leaving on the same day, and his trip is 10 days shorter. Semyon turns to Igor with a request to join his group. Igor, having consulted with the group and relying on Semyon's professionalism, takes him to his group, having no moral right to refuse. But Semyon does not suspect that Igor leads the toughest and most strenuous hikes in the UPI tour section. Semyon's age and physical fitness are not able to withstand the demands of Igor, as he hikes not to get sports awards, but to test himself under the most difficult conditions. If we take into account Igor's authoritarianism and Semyon's unruly nature, the conflict would only be a matter of time.

Chronology of events:

January 28

Krivonischenko camera film 6 frame 33

Yuri (Yudin), knowing firsthand what kind of stress Igor has, feeling the incipient pain, and fearing to disrupt Igor's trip (in case of a complication of the disease, due to the heaviness of the backpack and the cold), decides to turn back. His load (2-3 kg) is distributed among all the participants, making the already overloaded backpacks heavier.

On this day, two diary entries were made: Zina and Lyuda (in her diary, Lyuda's entry is cut off due to the fact that, having started writing her diary, she had to postpone it and fill out the group diary).

At 11.45 the group set out on the route, the temperature is -8°C (17°F), they ski along Lozva, each one breaking a trail for 10 minutes. Zina in her diary twice complains about the weight of the backpack. In the evening, they sing songs by the fire for a long time. After that, they did not sleep for a long time and argued about something in the tent.

By the way, for all 10 days of the hike, Semyon is mentioned in the diaries only in the first two days. For the remaining 8 days there is not a word about him. It is also unknown whether he fulfilled the duties of an attendant or was released from it.

January 29

On this day, the first key event takes place, which disrupts the climate in the group and irrevocably spoils the attitude of all the guys towards Semyon. Turning from Lozva to Auspiya, Igor begins to lead the group in the forest, following the trail of a hunter, as it is more challenging and interesting, instead of calmly walking along the river, following the trail of the Mansi sleigh. Semyon, at one of the halts, already feeling tired, begins to advise Igor where it is better, and most importantly, easier to go. Igor is very indignant at this and asks Semyon not to tell him where to go. It was then that Semyon begins to understand that is dealing with someone that loves power. A little later he will understand that he is also extreme. It becomes clear that Igor will not cut him any slack. Semyon has a personal dislike for Igor, and the guys, seeing Igor's toughness toward Semyon, start feeling anxiety.

This very moment was captured by Kolya at a halt:

Thibeaux-Brignolle camera film 3 frame 10

Outraged by each other, Semyon and Igor, and between them sits Yuri, puzzled by this situation.

After this incident, Lyuda, who until that day had all the records sufficiently detailed, ceases to keep a diary altogether. She realized that this trip, due to the presence of Semyon, was already been ruined, and she had no desire to record the negative development in her diary.

This situation strained everyone so much that on this day no one dared to fill out the group diary, because the incident would have had to be mentioned somehow and could have caused unnecessary problems.

From that day on, only Zina and Igor leave entries in the diaries. Kolya will only make a formal entry in the general diary tomorrow evening, retroactively. On that day, only Zina will leave an entry in her diary, but she will not want to mention it either. Zina will write that Yurka has a birthday that day, that they turned from Lozva to Auspiya, and by the end of the day she, Rustik and Yuri went ahead, and that they were sitting and waiting for the others. It seems that Semyon is already starting to slow down the group.

- 4 -

From that day on, the group no longer sings songs and does not conduct evening discussions. The spirits are low and for the next two days there is not a single smile in the photographs.

Krivonischenko camera film 1 frames 21-22-19

January 30

Daytime temperature -13°C (8°F), in the evening -26°C (-15°F). The day passes in the same mode as yesterday: the forest, the loss of the trail, access to the river for a light duty and again into the forest. And the overnight stay will be, as Igor writes the day after "surprisingly good", which is not surprising, because after such loads everyone sleeps "like the dead". Only Igor, having arranged the "course of a young soldier" for Semyon, due to his youth, does not understand that Semyon is 15 years older than them and at the age of 38 he is not to recuperate so easy overnight as at 23. Semyon's fatigue and anger will only grow bigger.

Krivonischenko camera film 1 frame 20

January 31

The weather is getting worse every day, and this day is "worse than yesterday" again. On this day, the second key event takes place. Igor, as it is typical for him, does not walk along the river, but gradually moving away from it, leads the group through the forest, along a steeper ascent, using a very controversial and exhausting "new method of progressive walking", in which a "non-stop way of laying the track" is invented. They raise to the pass. Seeing the slope of Kholat Syakhl, on which a blizzard is raging, and the wind "is similar to the air coming from an airplane engine" Igor realizes that this is an ideal place for a cold training night. He tells the group about his decision.

How Semyon reacted to this can be seen in this photo:

Krivonischenko camera film 1 frame 28

Semyon understands that simple persuasion will not work on Igor and, already in a harsh form, is trying to pressure and dissuade Igor from this idea. Semyon perhaps is offering to make the cold night in the foothill of the mountain, in the forest, in milder conditions.

Semyon can be understood, he was not ready for such training, but there is only one tent and the group can not split in two. Igor did not want to deprive himself of such a training, especially since no one invited Semyon to this trek. Semyon himself asked for it, and the demands for a softening of the regime from the candidate for Master of Sports cause bewilderment in Igor. Moreover, Igor has a law in his treks: the actions of the leader are not discussed! And Semyon has already violated it twice. Igor refuses Semyon, explaining that the tent is one and there is no other choice, but Igor's patience is already at its limit.

It is not known whether Semyon knew before the hike that Igor was planning a cold overnight stay, but you need to understand that a cold overnight in a tent under such conditions is like torture. This is a sleepless night, after which you will still need to ascent Otorten. It is difficult to imagine how Semyon felt, given his general fatigue and the fact that he was born and lived in the warm Kuban climate.

Not finding a place for a storage near the pass, the group descends back to Auspiya.

- 5 -

After this conflict, even Zina finally lost her desire to keep her diary, although for the last two days she at least somehow tried to do it, not paying attention to the prevailing gloom in the group.

On this day, only Igor will make an entry in the diary, and it will also be the last entry: "Tired and exhausted we started the preparations for the night... We are having dinner right in the tent. It's warm. It is hard to imagine such a comfort somewhere on the ridge, with a piercing howl of the wind, hundreds kilometers away from human settlements."

February 1

Igor prepares the group for a cold night. Gives everyone a good rest and sleep. While everyone is working on the storage, Georgiy writes the satirical combat leaflet "Evening Otorten" and hides it in his backpack to cheer everyone up in the evening in the cold tent.

3 PM – the group has lunch and leaves for Kholat Syakhl at 3.30 PM
5 PM – reach the camp site on the ridge.
6 PM – set up a tent and change, quickly putting on dry clothes so as not to lose precious warmth.

A cold overnight stay with a squall wind and temperatures below -30°C (-22°F) is a great danger to health, so Igor appoints a turn of duty for one hour. Not everyone has a watch, so Georgiy's wrist watch is handed from one attendant to another. Kolya is the first to be on duty, and he puts on Georgiy's second watch, which after the shift will have to be passed on to the next duty attendant.

In the tent, Semyon, feeling cold and angry, again begins to make claims to Igor and another conflict occurs, after which Igor's patience bursts and he decides to severely punish Semyon, knowing perfectly well how it will end for him. Igor announces the early termination of the trek.

Semyon goes into a rage! He understands that after his return, the consequences for him will be catastrophic. Hiking activities will be closed for him forever. He will be fired with a "wolf ticket".

All his life Semyon was haunted by failures, and another dream with which he lived for the last two years was shattered.

He has nothing more to lose, he decides to punish Igor and the guys who never accepted him.

"You wanted a cold night? You will have a cold night!"

Here you need to understand that Semyon is a front-line soldier who is trained in the science of hand-to-hand combat, destruction of the enemy in the shortest possible time, using special techniques or edged weapons. Judging by the awards and no wounds, Zolotaryov mastered this science perfectly.

6:15 PM – Semyon silently makes his way to the exit, opens the tent and grabs the ice ax that lies at the entrance. Kolya is on duty, he is also located at the entrance and, seeing that Semyon grabbed the ice ax, tries to detain him, but receives a blow with his elbow in the temple and falls unconscious with a broken skull.

An example of a skull injury after an elbow blow to the head:

Elbow blow trauma

Semyon quickly jumps out of the tent, while hitting Yuri in the face, who also tried to detain him.

Semyon stands at the entrance and now anyone who dares to get out of the tent is guaranteed to get an ice ax in the head.


The guys were in shock.

Semyon, threatening to chop everyone with an ice ax, orders everyone to take off their jackets and felt boots, and leave the tent one by one. Everything happens so quickly that the guys have no time to think it over, and the shock from Kolya lying unconscious makes them fulfill his demand. Everyone takes off their jackets and felt boots, and begins to get out, some in socks, and some in slippers.

- 6 -

The last two, Igor and Rustem, he orders to get Kolya out. Rustem grabs the checkered shirt and felt boots lying with Kolya, and Igor tries to take out his jacket, which Semyon notices and forces him to throw it away. Already outside the tent, Semyon makes everyone take off their slippers and hats (Zina and Lyuda, standing behind the guys, take off and hide their hats) and orders them to go down, taking Kolya with them.

Kolya remains clothed, he is carried by six: two are holding his hands, two are holding his legs, and two are holding his jacket, so six pairs of tracks are in formation. The seventh is walking alongside.

Dyatlov Pass: Search 1959

An approximate diagram of the guys carrying Kolya:


Semyon is alone. Visibility no more than 30 meters (100 feet), temperature -30°C(-22°F), wind, blizzard.

He waits for the guys to disappear from sight and, after waiting a little longer, climbs into the tent and makes 2 short cuts (one at the entrance, the other in the middle of the tent) for observation.


Semyon, after thinking it over and realizing that the situation is developing in his favour, is going to make everything look like an accident. He checks all the diaries for negative references to him, and cleans up Igor's diary, leaving only two entries in it: for January 24 and 30. In the investigation this diary will be called "copy of Zina's diary".

Then he realizes that the visibility from the tent is very limited and he can be bypassed on the left. He pulls off the northern stretch straps and lowers the north end of the tent. Makes a long cut for observation and in the event of an attack he will able to leave the tent both through the entrance and through the cut. He shortened the ski pole that held the north skate, making a circular incision, and uses it as a second pole for support of the lowered north skate. The skis holding the middle of the tent on a rope, he sticks at the entrance.

Now it is impossible to approach him imperceptibly, and the already unnecessary short cut at the entrance, he plugs with Rustem's jacket. He finds a flask of alcohol and occasionally takes a sip, snacking on a loin. At some point, he urinated at the entrance to the tent, because now there is no need to go farther from the tent.


- 7 -

Meanwhile the guys go down the slope and at 7 PM stop at the cedar. They were blown hard on the slope for 30-40 minutes while they were descending. The guys understand that Semyon will not freeze on the slope all night, but he also cannot leave without being convinced of their death. He will wait 2-3 hours, which will be enough for the frostbite to set, and he will definitely go down to them. Since they have no chance in an open fight, they plan to set up an ambush.

After scouting the area, they find a windless place in a ravine with a frozen stream, 50 meters (164 feet) from the cedar perpendicular to the path from the tent, with good snow blows that can be used for an ambush.

Kolya is well fastened and taken to the stream. A little higher, 6 meters (20 feet) away, having dug out holes for the ambush in the snowy bank, they begin to make a flooring from the tops of fir trees, which are cut at a distance of 30 meters (100 feet) from the stream to the cedar. A trail of pine needles will follow from the cedar to the den.

This is the plan:


From the tent, the path leads to the cedar, from the cedar the path leads to the stream. Kolya lies up the stream. He remained where he was laid while the flooring was being made, because there is no wind there. Behind Kolya there is an ambush point in the snow blows, and a little further is the flooring.

They shouldn't make fire near the flooring, because Semyon will see this it and then it will be impossible to predict his actions. He should only be able to follow in the footsteps of the guys, and they will lead to an ambush.

A duty attendant sits at the cedar, who is replaced every 15 minutes and who must warn in time about the approach of Semyon in order to have time to take their position in an ambush.


While the guys were making the flooring, Yuri and Georgiy were on duty at the cedar. They made a fire in such a way that the person on duty can be between the fire and the cedar. One climbed on the cedar, the second warmed up by the fire. They used Kolya's checkered shirt, which Rustem grabbed from the tent. While they had strength, they took turns climbing the cedar, making an observation window in the branches so that they could notice the approaching Semyon as early as possible. Because of this, they spent a lot of energy, they were more exhausted than the rest, and at 8:30 PM Yuri dies on duty from pulmonary edema. By 9 PM Georgiy also dies on duty. Because the attendant is between the fire and the cedar, Georgiy put his frostbitten leg too close to the fire, received a burn, and in order not to miss Semyon and not let the guys down, having already fallen and losing strength, he tries not to fall asleep by biting his skin on his finger. As a result the bitten piece of skin breaks off.

Th etwo of them were discovered and dragged away from the fire by the attendant who came on duty. Igor, on his watch, decides to cut off their clothes in order to warm the others, puts them on the flooring and makes a seat for the person on duty at the cedar. He does not take any piece of clothing for himself.

- 8 -

Semyon waits for 2.5 hours for the group to freeze and not be capable of any serious resistance. Then he gets ready. Since everything should look like an accident and in order to hide any traces of violence, he takes a camera case with him as a weapon, winding the case strap around his right hand. His idea is to use the hard protrusion of the lens protection for striking blows, holding the case in his hand. The camera itself remains in the tent. Trying to firmly secure Rustem's camera case in his hand, the strap breaks, and Semyon takes Kolya's case.

Camera case

In order not to get lost on the way back, Semyon straps on a compass on his left hand, and puts on a mask for the wind. He takes two flashlights out of the tent, turns them on to check which one works better. He leaves one flashlight on top of the tent, which is already covered with 5-10 cm (2-4 in) of snow.


At 9 PM Semyon begins to descend down the tracks left by the guys, leaving behind an eighth track.

He walks 450 meters (1500 feet), the footprints of the guys are clearly visible and the visibility is acceptable. Because the light of the flashlight can forewarn about his approach, Semyon throws out the flashlight, which turns on from impact on the ground ice.

At the time of Semyon's approach to the cedar, five hikers are still alive. Since one is on duty at the cedar, there are only four seats on the flooring, made of clothes cut from Yuri and Georgiy. The diagram is approximate, the guys are sitting on the flooring. They will stand in ambush when the duty attendant comes running and reports:


At 9:30 PM, 30 meters (100 feet) from the cedar, the duty attendant Rustem notices Semyon and runs to warn the guys. Since the only boots the guys had was passed on to the duty attendant, Rustem will remain in them, and some of the things on which the duty attendant was sitting will later be scattered by the wind some distance from the cedar in the direction of the flooring.

The warned guys take their places in ambush.

Semyon approaches the cedar, sees the already frozen Yuri and Georgiy and goes further along the trodden path leading to the flooring.

Lyuda, realizing that they have little chance against Semyon, decides to talk to him and meets Semyon before being ambushed.

Semyon approaches Lyuda and Lyuda tries to speak, but Semyon grabs Lyuda by the throat with his left hand and breaks the hyoid bone with his fingers, and with the camera case, which is firmly clamped in his right hand, he strikes her in the nose. Lyuda falls on her back, covering her face with her hands, and Semyon inflicts 1-2 kicks in the chest, breaking her ribs.

On the slope of the mountain from the tent to the cedar there was a strong wind, and even approaching the cedar, Semyon began to freeze. He deliberately did not begin to warm himself too much so as not to limit his movements with too much clothes, but when he saw two people who were frozen near the cedar and a weakened Lyuda, he believed that no one will offer serious resistance. He decides to warm himself up, takes off Lyuda's woolen hat and puts it under his leather hat with earflaps, unbuttons her fur vest, turns it over her head, pulls the vest off through her hands and puts it on himself.

- 9 -

Lyuda will remain lying in this position, hands up. The ledge on which the searchers will find Lyuda was sloping (30-40°) in winter covered with ice. In the spring the ice melted under her and she ended up in a kneeling position.

Because of the broken hyoid bone, Lyuda's mouth was slightly open. She was lying with her face against the current, her tongue and eyes washed with a strong stream of water.


Semyon follows the tracks, passes Kolya, notices the flooring ahead, and at this moment Rustem pounces on him from an ambush and, grabbing Semyon by the waist, pushes him towards Igor. Igor grabs Semyon's legs and they throw him on the ice. Then Igor moves to Semyon's chest, and Zina began to hold his leg.


Semyon manages to deliver a strong blow to Rustem on the head. Rustem is lightly knocked down, but he quickly comes to his senses and tries to hold Semyon's right hand, striking with his left hand.

Semyon strongly resists, tries to break free and hits the guys.

The hands of all the guys are frostbitten and not functional, so Zina grabs Semyon's leg with her forearms and tries to hold it with her face, getting abrasions on her face and scratching her hands on the ice.

Since Kolya is lying next to him, Igor and Zina periodically kick him with their feet.

Semyon's left hand is holding Sasha by the throat and he is trying to free himself.

Igor, having inflicted several punches with his fists and realizing that he could not bring much damage with his frostbitten hands, starts pressing from above with his knees, using the weight of his whole body.

Pressing the knee on Semyon's chest breaks his ribs, and pressing on his stomach causes defecation.

Semyon stops resisting, his body goes limp.

Having died a violent death, Semyon now himself becomes a victim and thereby receives an iron alibi.

Sasha's throat is injured, he will remain lying next to Semyon. Kolya lies next to them, followed by Lyuda.


For 25 days, snows up to 5 meters (16 feet) high will accumulate into the creek ravine and they will be found only in May.

Igor, Rustem and Zina decide to return to the tent, where their only salvation is the stove, but Igor has strength only to walk 300 meters (1000 feet), Rustem - 450 (1500 feet), Zina - 650 (2100 feet).

Igor was unique in everything, and he will die like no one else - looking at the sky.

Zina's heart will be the last to stop, on February 1, 1959, at 11 PM.

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