its a case that many consider to be one of the greatest mysteries of all time, as over 60 years later there is no agreed-upon conclusion as to what exactly had happened to those hikers, and part of what has always drawn me to this mystery is its uniqueness, as I always thought nothing like it could ever happen again. But little did I know it already has.
It was August 9th, 1993 as a group of Ukrainian kayakers paddled their way through a remote river in southern Siberia. The river tour would take them near the vast Khamar Daban mountain range and give them a full view of its beauty. As they followed the twisting river the group would catch a glimpse of something moving in the woods, it was a young lady wandering aimlessly with a frozen expression on her face. She was all alone with blood on her jacket. The kayakers would call out to her asking who she was and if she needed help, but the girl didn't answer. In fact she didn't say a word. Whatever she had seen on that mountain range had traumatized her to the point where she couldn't speak having barely spoken of the incident to this day. The kayakers would bring her back to civilization where it would be discovered that her name was Valentina Utochenko a hiker who had been visiting the area as part of a tourist expedition through the mountain range. But the concerning part was that she wasn't alone or at least she hadn't been when she started her hike. In fact, she had been with six other hikers during her trip. Hikers who were nowhere to be found. What happened in those mountains that were so traumatic that it left Valentina in a state of shock for years and caused the disappearance of her entire crew. Well, the story is as strange and disturbing as it gets.
It all started on August 2nd, 1993 seven days before Valentina would be found lost in the woods, a group of seven hikers had set out on a tourist expedition through the Siberian mountain range of Khamar Daban the group consisted of 24 year old Tatiana Filipenko, 23 year old Alexander Kriesen, as well as Denis Shvachkin, Victoria Zalesova, Timur Bapanov and of course Valentina Utochenko. Each of whom were merely teenagers, but despite their youth they were all well-trained and experienced hikers and the group was led by 41 year old Lyudmila Korovina, an internationally renowned master in pedestrian tourism with immense knowledge of the area. They were a well-prepared and run group and the Khamar Daban mountains were not viewed as being dangerous especially in the middle of summer the general area was a popular tourist attraction and when Lyudmilas’ crew set out on the morning of August 2nd, two other groups would follow on nearby trails. One of which was even led by Lyudmilas’ 16 year old daughter Natalia. The two would plan on meeting up the very next day in the mountains along with their respective crews, before Lyudmila and company would continue on towards Ludianka, their final destination. Luckily for them, the weather forecast had predicted clear skies for the majority of the track, making the conditions perfect for a hike. However, the forecast couldn't have been more wrong.
On and off spouts of freezing rain poured down upon the group and predicted an oncoming snowstorm as the group climbed the Canolu mountain and by August 4ththe snowstorm was in full effect. Pummeling the exhausted hikers and forcing them to re-route and miss their connection with Natalya's group. Drained of energy Lyudmila would make the call to set up camp near the top of a clear summit and rest for the night. A move that to this day is still questioned as the hikers were merely half an hour away from a shelter that stood on top of that very mountain, but nevertheless, they would spend the night there and they waited for the morning. The sun would rise the next day to more stormy weather with the snow continuing to fall around them. Lyudmila knew that staying where they were would only spell trouble, so she ordered the group down the mountain and into the cover of the woods below. They'd never make it there.
Just minutes into their descent Alexander Kristen would begin to stumble, the man considered to be the strongest of the group would fall to the ground as his mouth began to fill with foam. Blood would rush out of his ears and his nose as he laid there seizing violently in front of his group. The hikers stood there stunned, as Kristen was in perfect health and just minutes ago he was fine, and now he laid in front of them, dying. They had been outside for mere minutes and already one of their crew members were down. Recognizing the severity of the situation, Lyudmila knew that they had to react quickly. So she volunteered to stay behind with Alexander and appointed the two remaining boys, Denis and Timur to lead the rest of the group on their descent to the forest. And so the five hikers continued moving forward without their leader and their strongest member, trudging ahead in a state of shock and confusion. However, this descent wouldn't last long.
As they walked out of sight of Lyudmila and their dying friend, screams started ringing out from on top of the hill. It was Lyudmila they rushed back up to see what the matter was, only to find a disturbing scene. Alexander was lying there dead and Lyudmila was dying too. Unable to move and on her last breath to this day it's still unclear what she died from. With reports saying that she had suffered from the same mysterious illness that Alexander seemed to have, while others say that it may have just been a heart attack. But either way, chaos erupted from the group. Both Victoria and Timur would quickly collapse on the ground, twitching violently and bleeding the same way that Kristen had. They began tearing at their clothes, ripping them off and grabbing their necks as if they were being choked. All the whilst they desperately tried to gasp for air. Valentina rushed to help Victoria but in an instant the suffering girl would sink her teeth into Valentina biting her and forcing her to back off. While this happened, Denis started to run away from the group out of fear and confusion having no idea what was happening to his friends or why he could only watch as one by one they began to lose their minds and their lives. With Denis hiding from the group, Tatiana also began to tear her warm clothing off exposing her body to the freezing cold elements, she too grabbed for her throat and acted as if her own body was torturing her. Once on the ground she would turn her attention to the rock that laid next to her and in an instant she would begin to smash her head against it over and over again until her body would go limp.
In a matter of what must have felt like minutes the group of seven had withered down to just two, as the suffering hikers had stopped moving altogether. Likely having succumbed to their mysterious symptoms. Denis would emerge to help Valentina, as the two were the only ones left who hadn't faltered. However, their health was starting to wither as well. They remained in the forest close to the site where their whole group had just died, unsure of what to do next. I can't imagine the silence the confusion they must have felt as they stood there together after witnessing all their friends dropped dead in front of them. Friends that a mere hour ago were in perfect health. And the stark fate wasn't quite finished with the group either as a short time later, Denis would collapse alongside Valentina as he too began bleeding profusely, leaving Valentina as the only living member of the group.
Completely traumatized and scared for her life, Valentina took supplies from the camp and proceeded to wander alone in the forest. She did so for three days, before being found by the kayakers on August 9th.
Valentina's explanatory note:
“August 5, 10 am. Krysin came (Alexander. - Author), said that they were wet and freezing. (It is not clear where Krysin came from and where. Perhaps, from tent to tent? - Author.) We collected our backpacks and began to go down the wall. We walked about 10 meters, Krysin began to fall. They began to pick it up. He fell again. Korovina remained beside him. She gave the rest to go downstairs. But almost immediately she stopped the group and asked someone to follow her. Tanya (Filipenko. - Author) took out an awning, and the others hid themselves with it. I went up to Korovina. The eyes of Sasha (Rat. - Author) were huge. Indifferent look. Korovina felt for a pulse and said that her heart was not beating. She asked to drag Vika (Zalesova. - Auth.) Down. I went up to that one, and she bit me. I dragged her to the rest. Tatiana began banging her head against the stones. Denis (Shvachkin. - Ed. ) hid behind stones and climbed into the sleeping bag. She crawled up to Korovina, but she did not breathe. I tried to raise Timur (Bapanov. - Author). When I realized that no one was moving, I began to go down to the trees. I got dressed and lay down in my sleeping bag, covered with an awning. In the morning I went up, saw Tanya on the stones, Denis, Timur, Vika. Above - Sasha and Korovin. None of them rose again. "
It would be three weeks before the bodies were discovered, as they received no guidance from the deeply traumatized Valentina and what the rescue party saw when they stumbled upon the scene would shake them to their core. With one member saying it was a scary picture, the hikers were lying on a small ledge, some huddled together, some a little distance away. They had no eyes. Worms were crawling in the empty sockets and parted mouths. It's a story that seemingly makes no sense. Six healthy people turning insane and dropping dead in the matter of minutes, which prompts the all-important question. What happened to those hikers? A question that to this day, remains without a true answer.
Autopsy reports ruled that the six hikers had died of hypothermia and protein deficiency, pointing to the idea that the group had not been eating enough throughout their trip. But the more I look into this, the less I believe that this is possible. Just looking over the symptoms, this cause of death does explain some of their behaviors such as the paradoxical undressing. However, it fails to explain them all the biting, the banging of their heads against rocks, the foaming of the mouth, and the bleeding are all inconsistent with this conclusion. In addition, I find it strange that the hikers had perished a mere minutes into their hike, they had only been outside and exposed to the elements for a short period of time and they all had had a long warm night's rest in their tents, so how could hypothermia have set in so quickly? After all, it was summertime, and despite the snow, the temperature was likely barely below freezing. Also if hypothermia were truly to blame and they were in such bad shape that each hiker died in the span of minutes, then how could Valentina have continued to survive for three more days? It just doesn't make sense and as for the protein deficiency, Valentina herself had mentioned that the group had eaten well throughout their trip and had even ate together on the morning of their deaths.
It's also worth noting that they ate as a group together with each member eating the same thing, so how had Valentina survived if she had eaten what they had eaten. This has caused myself and many others to doubt this theory. But if it wasn't hypothermia and protein deficiency, then what could it have been as is the case with most mysteries, some have blamed the supernatural believing that something otherworldly had happened to the group, while others have taken a more scientific stance blaming things like low frequency in the area which caused the group to go in a panic. But I have a hard time believing either of these, as the area was not all that remote, and it's well studied by scientists plus this doesn't line up with Valentina’s testimony as well as the conditions of their bodies. Another possibility is that the group had eaten something poisonous on their trip an idea that is certainly possible as Lyudmila was often known to be a forager. So perhaps she had picked some sort of fungus or berry giving it to the group to eat without realizing that it was actually toxic, a poisonous mushroom could certainly cause the hikers to hallucinate and potentially bleed internally. But the issue is, Valentina never mentioned that the group had forged for food and she is on record saying that they had eaten well. If they had ate something suspicious out there, she certainly would have told authorities. Plus, if they had all eaten together, then how had Valentina not been poisoned? And finally, Lyudmila was an expert at this kind of stuff so it's unlikely that she would make a mistake of this magnitude, especially given how well she knew the area.
But if it hadn't been the food that had poisoned them, then perhaps it was something in the air. Russia has long since been known for their development of deadly chemical weapons, producing them in secret and testing them in undisclosed locations. And around this time it's documented that they had a specific interest in deadly nerve agent chemicals that could have caused the hikers to snap, and act the way they did, as well as causing their bleeding and foaming of the mouth. Because of this many think it's possible that the Russians had been testing or even dumping their chemicals in the area where the hikers just happened to be. After all, in 1993, the soviet union was already disbanded an event that caused thousands of these chemical weapons to go missing likely being sold or dumped, and just looking at the way the hikers had died, it seems like the best possibility for explaining how it happened so quickly. Now following this theory even more, the case gained virtually no media coverage besides for a single local article and it's barely known to this day pushing some to believe that it could have been covered up.
And there's also one final key detail that I found in my research that could point to this theory being true, after authorities were alerted that a group of tourists were missing, they didn't set out a search party until a full week had gone by, despite there being clear weather. Some online have taken this as an indication that authorities were waiting for the toxins in the area to clear before beginning their search. But there are some issues. First of all, the location where the hikers were visiting was fairly popular, and they were a mere hundred meters away from a shelter that was designed for people to stay in. So why would the military test or dump weapons there? Wouldn't they select a more remote area? And also how would Valentina survived if there truly was a deadly chemical in the air that was so powerful, that it killed every member of the group that quickly. Then it's nearly impossible that Valentina would have survived and because of that I can't settle on this as a definite conclusion.
It's a frustrating case as the answer seems so hard to settle on. Potentially because it's been incredibly under-reported and the reports that are out there are filled with quite a bit of speculation rather than fact. Also, of the original articles written on this, many were made in other languages which may have led to things being lost in translation over the years. And though Valentina's testimony tells us what had happened on those mountains, it's also possible she had misremembered things especially giving the extreme shock and trauma she had experienced. She had also just recently started discussing this event leaving things to be forgotten over the years. So, with all these factors, it's possible we may not even have the full story. Which just adds more mystery to this strange case, given the lack of attention. It's possible we may never know for sure what happened in those mountains.
PS: Survivor Valentina Utochenko never talked about what happened. After graduating from college, she left her native Petropavlovsk altogether, so that nothing would remind of those terrible days. And only a Komsomolskaya Pravda correspondent managed to find her and take an exclusive interview.