Last year, a very compelling theory was put forward to solve the enduring mystery of the Dyatlov Pass incident that killed nine experienced hikers on the slopes of Mount Kholat Syakhl (‘death mountain’ in the local indigenous Mansi language) in 1959, so the study presented, were caught by a rare slab avalanche.
When rescuers searched for them a month after the incident, they first found their tent cut open from the inside, with most of the supplies and clothing still inside. Some of the bodies were recovered the following day near the remains of a fire. Others were found in a ravine months later.
Soviet authorities at the time determined that three died from physical trauma and the other six from hypothermia. Being caught by the avalanche is a good explanation as a third of the group was hit while the rest died trying to escape in unsuitable clothing.
Although the explanation fitted the specifics of the case, not everyone was convinced. The main point of criticism was that such avalanches were not seen on the mountain. Well, since publication, authors Johan Gaume and Alexander M. Puzrin have conducted three more expeditions to Kholat Syakhl and found video evidence of two recent avalanches. The results are published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment.
Slab avalanches are peculiar because the top layer of snow is connected into a slab that sits on top of a weaker layer. They must cover a large enough area on a slope greater than 30 degrees to form, making them fairly rare.
“The critics targeted two key aspects of our theory by arguing that the slope is not steep enough and the conditions are not suitable to trigger an avalanche. People in the area swore they had never seen an avalanche on the Dyatlov Pass,” Gaume of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale De Lausanne said in a statement.
“Most of the criticism came from relatives and conspiracy theorists. We felt that many people rejected our scientific approach because they wanted to mysteriously hide the tragic fate of the hikers.”
The two expeditions that took place in 2021, one in summer and one in winter, first examined slope gradient (which was greater than 30 degrees) and then snow conditions, which suggested avalanches were indeed a possibility. The third expedition in January 2022, led by Oleg Demyanenko and Dmitriy Borisov, actually filmed evidence of two recent slab avalanches.
The researchers stress that they do not claim to have explained everything about the tragic end of the nine Dyatlov Pass hikers, but they are confident that their explanation is solid and makes sense when it comes to the natural conditions of the mountain.