Donnie Eichar is a Florida native brought up among a family of storytellers. He's an acclaimed director and producer of film and television who recently produced MTV's groundbreaking documentary series The Buried Life. He lives in Malibu, California.
J.C. Gabel is a writer and publisher, and is editor-in-chief of the Chicagoan. He lives in Chicago.
In February 1959, a group of nine experienced hikers in the Russian Ural Mountains died mysteriously on an elevation known as Dead Mountain. Eerie aspects of the incident—unexplained violent injuries, signs that they cut open and fled the tent without proper clothing or shoes, a strange final photograph taken by one of the hikers, and elevated levels of radiation found on some of their clothes—have led to decades of speculation over what really happened. This gripping work of literary nonfiction delves into the mystery through unprecedented access to the hikers' own journals and photographs, rarely seen government records, dozens of interviews, and the author's retracing of the hikers' fateful journey in the Russian winter. A fascinating portrait of the young hikers in the Soviet era, and a skillful interweaving of the hikers narrative, the investigators' efforts, and the author's investigations, here for the first time is the real story of what happened that night on Dead Mountain.
"The mystery of the bizarre deaths of elite Russian hikers in a 1959 tragedy on a deadly Ural mountain is the subject of Eichar's extensive investigation. Eichar, a film director and producer, tries to make sense of the puzzling tale of the dead students from Ural Polytechnic University; he sets off to interview the hikers' relatives, investigators, and even a lone survivor. Following the search party's retrievals of the bodies, the questions deepen when the victims are discovered, insufficiently dressed for the frigid weather, shoeless, with violent injuries, including a horrible skull fracture, a leg torn away, and a tongue ripped out. With expert analysis of the remaining evidence, Eichar tries to answer why the hikers, seven men and two women, would go out into the bitter cold without warm clothing to meet certain death; curious, too, is that the contents of the tent were intact. Possible causes for the panic, according to Eichar and officials, are: an avalanche; mysterious armed men; even a fatal tiff by the males over the women. As the elements of this complicated tangle are compiled, the final wrap-up of the mountain tragedy is overwhelming, befitting a case defying explanation."