At last, a reprieve
I really needed a break. Thankfully, I got one. Monday began a new 2-week cycle at my main job, and it is much easier than the last two ones. On Monday and Wednesday I worked until about an hour before the usual quitting time, while on Tuesday and Thursday I was as free as a proverbial bird well over two hours early. Again, I still get my full day’s pay, so it’s all good. Even beyond the ability to finish up early, the lack of pressure is a real plus. I can take my allotted breaks without worrying that I’ll have to stay late.
During this stretch I had only one shift at the Major Home Improvement Retailer, a 4:30 to 9 on Wednesday. After those excruciating lot shifts I was finally back into garden. What a relief. It wasn’t a bad shift as these things go, mostly freight work. No complaints.
Longform mystery: The Dyatlov Pass incident.
In January 1959, ten experienced hikers set off from Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg), Russia on a ski-hiking expedition to the northern Ural Mountains. Nine of them, seven men and two women, were in their early 20’s and were students or recent graduates of a technical university in Sverdlovsk, with the tenth being an acquaintance in his 30’s. Russia had and has a formalized system for certifying hikers, and by completing this lengthy winter expedition to a very remote area the group members would attain the top certification level and be authorized to work as guides. Their destination was Ortoten Mountain, one of the northernmost peaks in the Urals and far from civilization.
When the nine remaining hikers (one had turned back at the beginning for medical reasons) did not return as scheduled, the authorities launched a massive air and ground search. Searchers first found the hikers’ tent, which was still largely intact and contained most of their belongings. Among these belongings were extensive diaries, the keeping of which had been part of the certification process. Times of the last entries showed that whatever fate befell the hikers must have occurred on the evening of February 1. Area temperatures at the time were about 20 degrees below zero. It appeared that the hikers had slashed one side of the tent open so they could exit it very quickly. Something, or someone, must have scared the wits out of them.
Searchers found the first two bodies shortly afterwards, although it took a couple of months to find all nine. All of the hikers were buried deeply in the snow and autopsies showed they had frozen to death. Three had suffered fairly severe injuries from falling into a ravine. The bodies were in a few clusters, anywhere from a few hundred yards to a mile from the tent. What was strangest of all, however, is that none of them had proper outdoors gear, all of that having been left behind at the tent. Most of them were only partly dressed and were barefoot. As experienced hikers they would have known that leaving the tent in that condition, into such extreme cold, would have been a death sentence. Yet for some reason they had fled.
All the official investigation could conclude is that the deaths were the result of “a compelling natural force.” The authorities also named the location Dyatlov Pass in honor of expedition leader Igor Dyatlov. As you might imagine, there have been many theories over the years:
– Local tribesmen attacked the hikers for trespassing on sacred hunting grounds. In fact, the area wasn’t a hunting ground, and the tribesmen were quite friendly and some actually participated in the search efforts.
– Escaped Gulag prisoners attacked the hikers. This was unlikely because the nearest Gulag camps were more than 50 miles away across extremely rugged terrain.
– The hikers fled a wolf or bear attack. As experienced hikers, they would have known that staying together in the tent would have been safer than running out.
– Soldiers chased the hikers out of the tent because they had seen something of a military nature they weren’t supposed to see. There were no records of any military activities in the area, though that can’t be entirely discounted because the Soviet regime kept many secrets. Nonetheless, the soldiers probably would have shot the hikers.
– They heard what they thought was an avalanche and fled in fear. This might make sense, except for the fact that the hikers had deliberately chosen a spot for their tent that had no avalanche risk.
– Carbon monoxide fumes from the cooking stove disoriented the hikers. They hadn’t assembled the stove when they suddenly left and the autopsies showed no trace of carbon monoxide poisoning.
More or less by default, the infrasound theory has become the most prominent one today. Infrasound consists of very low-frequency sound waves, and in some circumstances can cause disorientation and an unwell feeling, though they aren’t actually dangerous. Riot police in Israel and some other countries have used infrasound generators as a crowd-control measure, though the results have been inconsistent at best. Scientific analysis has shown that the hikers’ tent was in a location where winds coming off a nearby mountain peak could generate infrasound as well as small tornado-like vortices. The idea is that the infrasound so disoriented the hikers that all nine fled the tent into certain death.