Theories Discussion > Avalanche

A version of the "avalanche" theory I could actually believe

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When I first got really interested in the the Dyatlov Pass Incident in the Summer of 2020, I contemptuously dismissed "avalanche" theories out-of-hand.  In January 2021, Puzrin & Gaume's scientific paper persuaded me that a "slab-slide" avalanche was indeed possible on that slope of Kholat Syakhl, and I acknowledged slightly more respect for avalanche theories than I did before.  However, I find the Puzrin-Gaume article more informative about what future visitors to Kholat Syakhl ought to do (i.e., do NOT camp on the slope, since slab avalanches are actually possible there) than about what happened to the Dyatlov Nine.

Whilst I cannot gainsay Puzrin & Gaume's science concerning the possibility of slab avalanches at the Dyatlovites' campsite, I am quite confident in dismissing the whole idea of a slab avalanche that both (1) happened at the campsite, AND (2) crushed the most seriously injured of the Dyatlovites.  IF we accept the premise that the Dyatlovites pitched their tent on the slope of Kholat Syakhl on February 1st, 1959 (and I am not sure that I do), then the possibility of a slab avalanche crushing people in the tent does not fit with the rest of the known facts.  Eight or nine pairs of footprints were observed descending the hill from the campsite.  If Thibeaux-Brignolles and Dubinina sustained their injuries in the tent, they sure as hell weren't walking down the hill (or anywhere); if Zolotaryov sustained his injuries in the tent, he could probably only walk down the hill with assistance.

Now, having said (written?) all that...consider that perhaps the mere word "avalanche" greatly overstates how much snow actually moved during the event that triggered the Incident.  In other words, perhaps what happened was indeed some kind of "avalanche", except that "avalanche" connotes movement of far more snow than that which factually did move to trigger the Incident.

Although I do not agree with every factual assertion it makes, I submit for consideration this post, which I quote here in pertinent part:

--- Quote ---Basically, the avalanche theory is that there was a very small avalanche right in the vicinity of the tent.

When they pitched their tent, they dug down into the snow to get to a level place to build the tent (you can see this in the pics from when they were setting up camp) which destabilized the mountainside, because then right were the tent was, there's nothing supporting the snow above. Winds picked up after dark, shifting the snow into drifts, and the destabilized snow slid down, but just a few feet, landing on their tent and partially collapsing it, but stopping before it went further down the mountain.

They dig their way out of the tent, cutting their own exit (which, by the way, was started with a knife, but the long vertical damages are tears, to they basically ripped their way out, which might make sense if the canvas is literally laying on top of them), but can't manage to unbury it in the dark because the more they dig, the more snow slides down hill to replace what they just dug, and they don't have any tools.

If you look at the diagram of the tent, some of the key supplies - like shoes - are on the uphill side of the tent, so that might explain why they couldn't get to them.

This would have been mostly minor injuries. So, it really only explains why they left the tent. The things like the crushed rib cages would have had a different explanation. Perhaps them digging into the side of the ravine to make a snow cave destabilized the slope, bringing enough weight down on them to break ribs, so, basically, a second avalanche right in the vicinity of the ravine. Or, perhaps the water below had created a void in the snow that broke under their weight, and they fell bringing a bunch of snow down that landed on top of them.

Those people weren't moved after they died, and they died very rapidly, so they had to have been injured in the ravine itself.

--- End quote ---


Edit: grammar

A good post RMK and appreciated.

The word avalanche provokes in our minds a a larch mass of snow , destroying everything in its path. I do not think  the word avalanche suits the proposed argument in our mind set.

A snow slip may have been enough to stimulate the DP9 to leave with haste. The slope futher above their tent is steeper, they may not have known exactly where they pitched their tent at the time due to the Visibility. Any minor snow slip may have put doubt in their minds, and they decided to move to the woods. It is plausible given what their perspective might have been at that moment in time.

I certainly don't think they sustained the injuries of the ribs at that point. The foot prints as recorded do not support it. As complex as this case is with all the variables, making a fire, a den, the bodies under a different consistency of snow with the rib fractures, along with the activity at the ceder to build the den , fire, for branches etc , looks like a sensible sequence for survival.

If we assume they chose to camp on the slope ( which I'm starting to think they may not have) . Then they  should have taken wood with them. They had lightened there back packs at the labaz , a few logs would have been no hardship. The distance to their goal was only 6 miles and the shelter of the wood was only a mile away, down hill. In my mind it's such a short distance and what was their plans for the following day/ night? To move 3 miles, pitch the tent again. Go to the top of the mountain and leave their written post at the top whilst retrieving  the previous hikers  bookmark? I understand their equipment was heavy but on skis they could do the last bit quickly . It's such a short distance. 

Yes,  they made their way above the tree line. it was for a practical reason. I believe it was to make up for lost time.getting to and from Ortoten.  It was probably a very good tactic. I recall that they were forced to use a relay technique during the hike to plow though deep snow. They couldn't go over the frozen tributaries like they wanted to. It was slow, hungry going. Offloading at the labaz was certainly beneficial in terms of load. While camped at 880 on 1079, they could survey the land and decide if keeping to the high ground would be in their best interest. I believe it was. They could loop Ortoten in a day and even bring back firewood for a comfortable evening. It did not work out that way. I believe they abandoned their tent because when the slab slip happened, they were in no position to do anything about it just then. Better to hide out in the woods and come back in daylight for damage control. I believe they felt that the trip could be salvaged, even if they lost another day repairing the tent and clearing their camp. It seems to not have worked that way. Below, the fire at the cedar was insufficient. The group split up. The clock was running, sapping their strength every minute. Mistakes were made, the price was paid. In the end they had exhausted themselves and had no one to turn to. Heroically, they tried to regain the tent, but all perished.

I don't see how a slab slip could possibly have occurred on 1079 and for a variety of reasons. The science may be sound enough, but there's no evidence it occurred there.

One of the key issues I take with the theory is how it is suggested that 3 week's worth of fresh snow fall perfectly hid the event, filling in the void which would be left above the tent, and doing this so perfectly that there was no dip in the snow surface, any lip or edge to this infill. And all this while footprints on the other side of the tent remained uncovered.

What I cannot begin to believe is that when men stood on this area of fresh snowfall they didn't notice any difference in compressive density underfoot compared to the surrounding snow crust. Freshly fallen snow is 95% air, it is less dense and weighs less than snow crust which has had most of the air slowly squeezed out. Either their feet should sink much deeper into this new stuff, or if temperatures are particularly low, it should have a crunchiness as it gives way and alert them that something happened here, something changed.

To imagine 15 or 20 diferent men stood around that tent at various stages, some of them professional outdoorsmen, and nobody noticed this is like imagining some detectives investigating a missing person case who is believed to have come to harm, and they visit their home to conduct a search and go outside into the garden and stand on some freshly dug soil and do not realise they may be above a grave.

Other logic issues with the theory - we know, or can reasonably deduce, that the hikers were sat eating inside their part-supported tent when whatever caused them to leave happened. How did they sustain head injuries and flail chests when sat up, when this is more likely to happen when laid down. Being awake why did they not notice the canvas sagging in both upslope and above their heads with the accumulation of a snow drift said to have initiated the slab slip.

If it is claimed they left without the tools for survival because of the tent being engulfed how did they manage to retrieve torches and some other items. Why didn't the tent parallelogram and instead remain perfectly upright, and why didn't the uphill side tear. And if serious injuries occurred at the tent how did people make it down the mountain and why didn't this show in their footprints, such as staggering, carrying or dragging someone.

All theories have their logical strengths and weaknesses, as far as I can see the slab slip only has one thing going for it, that if the hikers were suddenly buried under snow they would fear suffocation so might cut their way out of the canvas.

 I think the snow is blown off the slope as it is an exposed hill side or from the other side. The snow perpetually erodes what fell before constantly changing .  Snow may fall but depending on the wind the depth will constantly change. An example being the raised foot prints , which means  snow had been blown away or eroded.

If there was a snow slip/slab, I believe traces of it would be easily gone. We also can note the difference of snow cover on Rustem , Zina and Igor. Looking at Rustem we see that he is covered by a substantial amount of snow. We can see the vertical cut edges from spades from the retrieval of  his body, the snow seems firm and has the ability to support a man's weight without collapsing. There is little indentation on the top layer of the snow from foot prints of the searchers.

Whatever type of snow or how it came to cover Rustem, it wasn't there when he finally collapsed. The snow is hard enough to support weight. There is no sign of the searchers sinking into the new  snow. (Or old snow transported by wind)

This also may have happened at the tent. If we assume the last photos are of the hikers digging their foundation for pitching the tent , then there should be at least  a meter of snow above the tent but there is not. The hole for the tent has  basically gone , wind erosion with no slab slide/avalanche . Wind erosion when there was a small slab slide avalanche....? .

Again , if the 2 photos are of the tent floor being dug out in the snow and there was no collapse of any snow , then surely the tent would have been covered completely in the hole that was made?

The torch and other items were most likely on their bodies/clothing at the time of incident. Penknife , matches, gloves, comb, money , coins, string, wire, paper, etc.

The injuries were most likely caused at the ravine, ceder and the return to the tent. Snow collapse in a snow cave at the ravine , the 4 at the ravine were found under several feet of snow, the injuries are consistent with a mass collapsing.

There was a fire at the ceder tree and the evidence of the clothes indicate that they had tried to climb the tree. The branches from the tree were found to be the ones used in the fire. Some of the discarded clothing of the hikers at the ceder had been charged.  To climb the ceder to get the branches seems reasonable.

I can see them panicking if snow fell on their tent , doesn't need to be a lot.



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