THE BIGFOOT FILES/Chapter Forty-Two: Return to Dyatlov Pass

The 2018 horror novella Return to Dyatlov Pass is a cut above the typical creature feature. The 150-page story by J.H. Moncrieff is a sincere fictional attempt to investigate the mysterious – and true – 1959 deaths of nine Russian skiers whose bodies were discovered in the Ural Mountains.

Dedicated to the memory of the actual deceased skiers, Return to Dyatlov Pass is about a team of adventurers, led by Nat McPherson, that go back to the frigid scene of the unexplained fatalities. Nat is the host of Nat’s Mysterious World, the most popular podcast in the U.S. on the topic of unsolved and supernatural mysteries. 

Nat is a strong female protagonist with a lot of pride – maybe a tad too much. She lets an internet troll goad her into probing the Dyatlov Pass Incident and making the grueling trip to Russia. Her producer, the loyal Andrew, assembles a team of outdoor survivalists to accompany the podcast duo.

The opening scene perfectly – and horrifically – sets the mood as Moncrieff transports us back to March 1959 in the Ural Mountains where we witness the final minutes of the last survivor of the original Dyatlov party, a young woman named Lyudmila. 

“The moment before she died, Lyudmila wondered how it had gone so terribly wrong. Concealed within a makeshift snow cave for warmth and protection, she huddled close to Nicolai, though her friend’s body had long grown cold and stiff.” 

And that’s just the first paragraph.

Neary sixty years later, Nat and her team travel the same path, hoping to discover the truth of what really happened. Moncrieff creates a fully formed character with Nat, an inquisitive woman full of doubts and a powerful but untapped survival instinct. The author keeps the rest of the group from devolving into stereotypes with snappy dialogue and intense interactions, giving the minor characters a sense of personality. The crew is a mixed bag, each with individual experience but lacking the cohesion of a seasoned team that works together regularly. As the expedition progresses, the foreboding tone of John Carpenter’s The Thing and The X-Files’ “Ice” episode infiltrates the group’s dynamic, especially when people start dying. 

Actual investigations of the Dyatlov Pass Incident have attributed the deaths to an avalanche and hypothermia, but some of the bodies had traumatic injuries like skull damage and eyeballs missing. Other theories include military testing and alien encounters since the skiers’ clothes reportedly contained high levels of radiation.

Another theory? Yetis – aka abominable snowmen – killed the party of experienced skiers because a note reportedly found at the real campsite read, “From now on we know that snowmen exist.”

A gripping and heartfelt tale of terror in the mountains, Return to Dyatlov Pass parallels much of what the original 1959 victims “might” have experienced on their trip and offers an interesting take on the yeti theory. Plus, I learned what a “Mansi” is. Return to Dyatlov Pass is a must-read for fans of cryptid fiction.

NEXT UP: Chapter Forty-Three: Shadow of the Sasquatch. I review the 2021 novella by J.H. Moncrieff. 


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