Monday, April 28, 2014

Dead Mountain

The third book in the cold-weather troika of books is Dead Mountain by Donnie Eichar. It is also the most bizarre and best introduced by the facts. In 1959 nine experienced hikers from the Ural Polytechnic Institute set off on a journey through difficult terrain in the Ural Mountains of Russia, a trip that would earn them Grade III certification. They would need to be gone for sixteen days with at least eight in uninhabited regions and with no fewer than six nights in a tent. This rather dreary past-time was, in fact, very popular in Cold War Russia. When the hikers, who came to be named the Dyatlov group after their rather charismatic leader, failed to return after three weeks, a rescue operation was mounted. Eventually their tent was discovered with many of their boots and coats lying inside. The tent doors were still laced closed, but there was a large rip in the side of the tent. Over the course of the next several weeks the bodies of the hikers were found. Most died of hypothermia, though a few had headwounds. A couple were in a frozen embrace, all were shoeless.

The theories were countless, including a snatching by a yeti (or by the Mansi tribe which lived in the area.) Visitors from outer space were proposed, but none of the suggestions made sense once it was determined that the slash in the side of the tent was made from the inside.  Lev Ivanov, who headed the investigation, pronounced that the situation was due to "an unknown compelling force."

Enter Donnie Eichar who was fascinated by the incident and determined to shed light on it. To do this successfully, to follow the footsteps of the hikers and to write a compelling book would, I imagine, require that the investigator be a good writer, reasonably versed in Russian and accustomed to crossing large expanses of snow and ice. Donnie Eichar is a film maker, but the two other people who appear on   the jacket must have been used as co-writers. His Russian is non-existent, and that was a distinct problem (though bits of Russian songs and poems are interspersed with the text to give it a Russian feel.) As for experience, he says, "I had seen snow less than a dozen times in my life."

Nevertheless, I give him credit for his resolute determination to solve the whole question of what happened to the Dyatlov party. He does a believable job. You will have to read the book. Spoiler alert—Karman vortex.

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