Mountain of the Dead by Jeremy Bates
Publisher: Ghillinnein Books
Reviewed by: Dez Nemec
Fiction Addict Scorecard: C
Mountain of the Dead is the 5th installment of Jeremy Bates’ World’s Scariest Places books. While these are standalone books, they all follow a similar pattern. This one though, was a bit of a departure, but I really liked how he handled it.
The Dyatlov Pass Incident (as it is later known) is an actual mystery that occurred in the Ural Mountains of the then Soviet Union. During the night of February 1, 1959, in the Siberian wilderness, nine experienced Russian hikers slashed open their tent from the inside and ran into a blizzard without proper attire. Interestingly enough, not all of the hikers died of hypothermia. One of the hikers was actually missing her tongue. An investigation by the Russian government concluded that an “unknown compelling force” had caused the deaths. But what was the force? Theories include animal attacks, hypothermia, avalanche, attack by Mansi people (indigenous folk of the region), or some type of military accident. The place where they died is called Kholat Syakhl by the Mansi – Mountain of the Dead.
True-crime writer Corey Smith and his friend, movie star Disco Brady, have traveled from Los Angeles to Russia to literally walk in the footsteps of the Russian hikers. They are even hiking at the same time of the year – starting at the end of January to reach Kholat Syakhl by February 1st. They meet up with Vasily Popov, a friend of deceased group leader Igor Dyatlov. Corey has been in contact with Vasily, discussing theories and sharing information about the incident. Vasily has arranged the entire trek, as he has hiked it before along with guide, Fyodor. Before they leave, a friend of Vasily’s named Olivia shows up and says she intends to go with them.
The chapters bump back and forth between the original group in 1959 and Vasily’s group in 2018. The 2018 group attempts to follow the same path as Dyatlov’s as closely as they are able. They pick up Fyodor and move out with snowmobiles, while Fyodor and Vasily traverse the terrain on a dogsled. Stopping in a Mansi village, the group meets with Raya. When asked her thoughts on what killed the missing hikers, she relates a story about a forest giant that she claims she saw as a child. So now we have another theory – is the abominable snowman living in the Siberian mountains? The theory seems implausible until the group spends the night in Sector 9, a prison in the wilderness. Then there are the mysterious noises in the forest and the extremely large footsteps in the snow…
The group finally reaches Boot Rock, where some of the bodies were placed when found by rescuers. There is a memorial in place that Corey insists upon seeing. But the blizzard is getting worse and the group can’t find their way back to the camp.
I really like what Bates did with this book. The mirroring between the 1959 hikers and the present-day hikers gives us a good idea what that group went through in 1959. Bates also peppers the Dyatlov group story with captioned pictures of their final hike in the wilderness – real pictures taken by the actual hikers and found during the subsequent rescue mission. I love how he merges the truth in his story. Based on their journal, we know where the hikers spent each day and Bates uses this information to place us with them on their journey.
The Dyatlov Pass Incident is a real tragedy with no real answers, so Bates supplies us with one possibility. Perhaps it’s not the most probable, but it was surely entertaining. And he has encouraged me to research the incident, which for me is always proof of an intriguing concept. Definitely recommended.