It was a classic story of serendipitous discovery as a public library worker: I spotted Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident on a cart of books ready to be sent to their home locations. The title jumped out at me and once I read the inside flap, I knew I had to know more. As the copy I found was an interlibrary loan on its way back home to another state, I waited until I spotted the book on Kindle sale. This tragic real-life mystery of young hikers in Russia’s Ural Mountains in 1959 did not disappoint.
This post is part of an occasional series discussing how non-library-specific books and materials are relevant to library school students.
Read the first in this series, a review of Onward
Read the second in this series, a review of Trace
Read the third in this series, a review of The Knockoff
In the midst of my third semester out of an anticipated six semesters in library school, I have started a new Youth Librarian position at a different branch in my large city system. During this big change, this series on non-library-specific books was more important to me than ever. Alongside my new job responsibilities and class obligations, I needed to stay in touch with the world outside the library through books. Between lunch breaks and other pockets of time, reading books like Dead Mountain have helped ground me in my new position.
In Dead Mountain, author Donnie Eichar tells the story of a group of nine young people who died mysteriously while hiking in the Ural Mountains of what was then the Soviet Union in 1959. Nicknamed the Dyatlov group for the surname of their leader, these young people had experience, strength and passion: but they did not survive. Their tent was found still standing, but with cuts from the inside. Their bodies were discovered far from the tent in strange states, not dressed adequately for the cold. Mystery and confusion surround their deaths and the investigation, with the final report on the situation declaring their cause of death “an unknown compelling force” (279). In spite of or because of this claim, the theories of what happened range wildly, from aliens to meteors to nuclear weapons to a government cover-up.
Eichar explores all of the possible theories after becoming obsessed with the story and trying to uncover the truth. He even traveled to Russia to research the story, hiked the same dangerous path where the Dyatlov group died, and met with the one group survivor who had turned back from the trip just days before his friends’ tragic end. The book is peppered with actual archival photos that were found on the cameras of the doomed hikers, detailing their trip to their last day. These eerie photos along with portions of the hikers’ journals are an archivist’s dream, even considering the tragic circumstances. The mystery of their deaths combined with the personalization of the photos and journal entries is so tragic yet intriguing that as a reader you cannot help by turn the page to learn more.
To tell more of Dead Mountain’s plot would rob a potential reader of learning all the fascinating twists and turns of this decades-old mystery. This story will resonate with any library school student’s desire for answers, truth, and solutions. While the truth behind this long-ago tragedy cannot be known for certain, the systematic way in which Eichar examines the evidence and provides his own suppositions will appeal to the library school student. Dead Mountain connects you to a story and people you might never have heard of before but who you will never forget.
Eichar, Donnie. 2013. Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
Sarah Davis is a Bilingual Youth Librarian at a public library in Oklahoma and an MLIS student at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa.