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Book Review: Dead Mountain: The untold story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident (2014)

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The front cover of Dead Mountain (2014), by Donnie Eichar, encapsulates the essence of the whole book; a group of cross country skiers disappearing into the gloom of a cold, frozen waste. It’s a photograph taken by a member of the ill-fated group.

In February 1959 a group of ten students and graduates from the Ural Polytechnic Institute in Sverdlovsk, Russia embarked on a winter adventure. It was to be a Grade III trip in which they would cover 300 kms in a minimum of 16 days with one-third of the trip challenging. They were to travel hundreds of miles due north, by train and truck, and then on foot and skis to the bleak Otorten Mountain. They were all experienced hikers and skiers and lead by the most experienced; Igor Dyatlov. It was acknowledged that “Igor had indisputable authority” (p.31).

A remote woodcutter settlement marked a decision point for the expedition. Beyond this point there would be no other settlements, no roads, no people, no help just a barren, frozen wasteland. A member of the group, Yuri Yudin, made a decision to abandon the trip at this point. Illness made it impossible for him to continue and should it get worse he would put the rest of the party in danger. As his friends trudged off into the snow and mist it was the last time he would see them alive. Their slashed and abandoned tent, complete with their boots and equipment, clothing and food all neatly arranged would be found by the search party. Their bodies, partly clad, without shoes and three with evidence of violent trauma would be found months later. Some died from their injuries, the others by hypothermia… within a few hundred yards or so from their tent. At the time of their last diary entry the temperature would be forty degrees below zero with winds of 40 mph. It raised the obvious question: “What… provoked the nine hikers to leave the sanctuary of their tent?” (p.217); the official answer was an “unknown compelling force” (p.253). Thus began the mystery of the Dyatlov Pass Incident.

In his exploration of the Dyatlov Pass Incident  Donnie Eichar weaves together two stories. One involves pen portraits of group members and their friendship. The numerous, grainy, black and white photographs capture moments in their lives and along their route. A description of life in Russia in the late 1950s, the impact of the Cold War, restrictions and secrecy serves to explain the attraction of wild open spaces.

The other is a desire to understand the circumstances surrounding the unexplained deaths of nine young people in bizarre circumstances. In doing so Eichar actually retraced their steps in the bleak Russian wilderness. He drew upon his research skills as a documentary film maker and the insights provided by the only survivor, Yuri Yudin. Eichar’s story also draws upon the hiker’s journals and photographs, government records and interviews, maps and witness statements. He assembles the evidence and in doing so challenges the myths and legends that have emerged in over fifty years.

Dead Mountain: The untold story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident  is a compelling read. Informed by the ‘evidence’ Eichar skilfully explores previous explanations – only to challenge and discount them. He finally formulates an account that satisfies all the known and previously unavailable scientific evidence. In the words of Sherlock Holmes: ‘when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’ Donnie Eichar’s conclusions may just persuade you that the mystery of the Dyatlov Pass Incident is finally solved.


Dead Mountain: The untold story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident (2014)

  • by Donnie Eichar
  • Publisher – San Francisco: Chronicle Books
  •  288 pp
  • ISBN 9781452140032         

Donnie Eichar is a director and producer of film and television. His work includes the documentary Soaked in Bleach (2015) and the TV Series Buried Life (2010) and Killing Fields (2016).

He was born in Florida, USA and now lives in Malibu, California with his wife.


Find out more about the reviewer, Professor Fred Lockwood, who is also a published author at www.fredlockwood.co.uk.

Dr Fred Lockwood is Emeritus Professor of Learning and Teaching, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK. He is also a PADI Master Scuba Diver and dived in the waters of Central America and Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia, Australasia and the Pacific Islands. Follow Fred at www.fredlockwood.co.uk.

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Miscellaneous Blogs

Review: The Rescue

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National Geographic’s latest documentary, “The Rescue”, tells the remarkable story from 2018 when a football team became stuck in a cave in Northern Thailand.

It is now showing on Disney + and Scubaverse blogger, Alex Tasker, was keen to watch it. Here is what he thought…


I was fascinated by this story in 2018 and that’s undiminished now. It’s got it all – extreme jeopardy, a ticking clock, politics, unconventional heroes, maverick rule-breaking, even romance! I defy anyone to be moved by the heroism and human endeavour portrayed in this movie.

We already know the ending, and the documentary style is pretty straightforward, but it’s still thrilling. While the story itself needs no embellishment, the photography is great (as you’d expect from NatGeo!), supported by cgi visualisations of the cave structure, reconstructions of some of the terrifying action and brand new interview footage.

In those interviews we learn a bit about the characteristics of those key individuals, their backstories and how they became the few men who could pull off such an incredible rescue. They are remarkably frank about the ups and downs of the rescue and how they were personally able to cope with those mind-boggling challenges over the days that passed before it could be executed.

Watch the trailer:

If you enjoyed the documentary and want to read more about this incredible rescue, then “Aquanaut” by Rick Stanton and “Thirteen Lessons that Saved Thirteen Lives” by John Volanthen are both good reads.

For more on how you can watch it visit the Disney+ website by clicking here.

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Miscellaneous Blogs

The BiG Scuba Podcast… Diving in the Farne Islands

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A roving report style podcast from our three day trip to Seahouses in North East England and our diving adventures in the Farne Islands just off the coast.  The trip was organised by our local dive centre Christal Seas Scuba. 

Have a listen here:

Here are some useful links:


Find more podcast episodes and information at the new www.thebigscuba.com  website and on most social platforms @thebigscuba 

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