But now there is a more obvious explanation for why the hikers may have chosen to 'head for the hills' - they arrived at that pass mid afternoon, looking to find somewhere to pitch their tent, in a forest, it was still daylight, and all this activity and its dangers was there. They would also hesitate to search for adequate firewood with this going on. So, late in the day, unplanned and unprepared, they headed to higher ground, somewhere up safe, away from the danger zone, and also where they could be seen.
And having camped on the ridge and the wind picking up, stated in the book to be up to 35 metres-per-second (that's 78mph), and temperatures producing an arctic -63C wind chill, it seems obvious what happens thereafter, and they end up in the forest later that evening when the activity is safely over, minus their tent, tools and clothes.
Wouldn't it be safer just to camp outside the test area in the forest? The risk assessment of camping on an exposed hillside would still be the same. I guess I can imagine them wanting to push on.
But if they did camp on the hill and walk barefoot and unequipped to the forest, having lost their senses due to hyperthermia, they wouldn't have been in a state to do much work. And their injuries suggest they'd been in a fight.
I'd say not, not when at lower elevation and as the day set in, in deteriorating weather, and with little way of communicating with these men, especially if they were actually dropping dynamite from the helicopter. The risk of being injured still applies, so heading to higher ground, above the treeline, becomes your best defence.
The book inadvertently provides the first logical reason for the hikers pitching up there, ironically so given it was trying to suggest 4 part-moonwalking men did it, and this fooled the rescue team, who had even felt able to determine the tallest hiker walked at the back, which would be from shoe size and snow depression.
Once they're up there people can work out numerous ideas of what happens next, as this forum always has, but in those estimated weather conditions surely hypothermia has to be an element, even if not the whole explanation, for why they left. Once in the shelter of the forest, and because they wouldn't all be equally affected, and from the warmth of a fire estimated to have burned 1.5hrs (log thickness) they are able to do things, but the end result is always going to be the same through exhaustion, different stamina levels and physiologies, and varying degrees of clothing insulation, which they desperately supplement where possible.
As regards the suggestion they had been fighting, something I've read here since I first visited this forum, and accepted and even reproduced in my posts, I'm doubtful that was ever the case. The autopsies did not suggest these knuckle injuries were indicative of a fight, it's this site in the autopsy section, where it states "metacarpophalangeal joints on the right hand had brown red bruises. This is common injury in hand to hand fights. To get a better idea of the injuries just make a fist. This is the part of the hand which you use to hit someone."
I think it will be tastefully okay for me to reproduce a cropped colourised image of Igor's hands as example. He was right-sided and his hand was found sticking above the snow. There are unbroken contusions, erythema there, but when people fight they typically break the skin of the knuckles and there's some bleeding. Yet not a single knuckle is affected and his leading knuckle isn't as bad as the others. Only one hand is affected, yet it's commonly suggested he'd been fighting with both hands, as if for his life.
I completely agree, regarding the injuries. As someone who camps and hikes, a lot, and as someone who is disabled and falls on these camping and hiking trips, a lot, I've come home sometimes looking like I went three rounds with Mike Tyson. If they were already suffering from the fatigue and exhaustion of the hike, compiled by the lack of coordination and other cold related physical issues, they were falling and crawling at times. When you are desperately cold, your extremities pull in closer to your body. You fall, you land on your knuckles and faces.
Yes, and additionally Igor was not kitted out for the night, without gloves, shoes, hat or coat, so he had even less protection not only from the elements, the effect of which would render him clumsy, but also no cushioning against any impacts.
Something's just occurred to me related to how Igor's body was found, to potentially explain why only his right hand had any knuckle injury. His left arm looked to either be hooked around a birch sapling or if not had that preventing full extension to the ground on his left, whereas his right arm was free. The autopsy conclusion mentions how the agonal stage may part explain some injuries, so with him dying on his back only his free right hand may have injured itself then.
"The above-mentioned damage was caused both during life, as well as in the agonal and post-mortem states."