The Profound Awfulness of Discovery’s Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on June 2nd, 2014

by Daniel Loxton, originally published on Skepticblog.

Tonight sees the premiere of a two-hour Discovery Channel Monster Week “documentary,” Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives. With its horror movie trappings, it makes a sensationalist hash out of a genuine historical mystery—the tragic deaths of nine hikers in the Ural mountains in February of 1959. Known as the “Dyatlov Pass incident,” this unsolved cold case has unusual aspects that give it something of an air of the inexplicable, leading to the rise of conspiracy theories and paranormal speculations. Notably, though the bodies of the hikers were eventually recovered by a search party, they were found scattered over a large area in states of partial undress, as though they had fled their tents in the night in a panic. Perhaps, some speculate, they were running from someone—or something? Cue X-Files theme.

I shouldn’t snark. It’s ghoulish to make hay from the untimely deaths of other people—in this case, people who have surviving loved ones today. But mystery-mongering television programs have rarely found a tragedy they weren’t willing to exploit—and distort.

Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives caps a marathon of Discovery monster hoaxes (both of their infamous and profitable mermaids hoaxes and last year’s Megalodon hoax are playing again earlier today). In this program, hosts Mike Libecki and Maria Klenokova set out to solve the Dyatlov Pass incident—or rather, to pretend on air that it had something to do with the Yeti…

You know what is good TV? Monsters. Huge, terrifying, tongue-eating monsters. (Much is made of the assertion that one hiker was missing part or all of her tongue—plausibly bitten during a fall, skeptics suggest, though her body was also found with other presumably post-mortem soft-tissue damage—almost inevitable after weeks of exposure in the forest.) Never mind that we have no particular reason to suppose that the Dyatlov Pass case involves Yetis in any respect (nor, for that matter, aliens, vampires, or griffins). Never mind that Yetis are probably best thought of as a modern myth, as Don Prothero and I discuss in our book Abominable Science! When it comes to the paranormal, media producers are delighted to untether themselves from all responsibility. For all the investigative posturing of programs like Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives, the producers will sacrifice anything—facts, plausibility, dignity, a respected television brand—in the pursuit of a ratings monster.


The central showpiece of the program is a black and white still photograph showing a dark, unidentified figure standing in the trees. It is introduced with stark onscreen text: “The following image is one of the last photos taken by the hikers. It is being shown on television for the first time.” This picture is presented as evidence that a Yeti was stalking the doomed party through the woods—their inhuman killer caught on film. What are we to make of this “extraordinary photographic evidence”?

To begin with, it doesn’t look much like a Yeti. With its short, rather thin arms, it looks a lot like a person in a coat. Its very lameness as Yeti evidence may be the best sign of its authenticity—authenticity as photograph taken during the expedition, that is. (Probably a photograph of a member of the party.)

Read the rest of the review here.


About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.

13 Responses to “The Profound Awfulness of Discovery’s Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives”

  1. Old Philosopher responds:

    Loxton’s article is well founded. I’m not a skeptic, but the show was a farce.
    I’m begging to think the executive producers of Discovery Channel are fans of Orson Welles (War of the Worlds).

    Discovery can’t even produce “reality” shows without fabricating events. Anyone who watched the popular series “Dual Survival” episode titled “The Journey Ends” could see to what lengths Discovery will go to mislead the viewers.

    I was hoping for a Discovery Channel documentary in their old style. Instead I got a mockumentary, and not a very good one at that.

  2. Peter Von Berg responds:

    Yes, the photograph is definitely of a human, with thin short arms and thin legs and wearing what looks like a ski mask. On the other hand, avalanches don’t tear out your eyes and tongue. Neither do bears and wolves. Serial killers operate in the middle of society, they don’t live on unnhabitable snow-covered mountains. So what do we have here? A case for Sherlock Holmes, it seems. The more obvious suspects would be the tribal people whose sacred space misght have been viiolated. But if not that, what would you suggest, Yeti sceptics ?

  3. springheeledjack responds:

    Uh …yeah on all counts. They played up the deaths as homicide when in fact it was about nine young people getting freaked enough to evacuate their tent without proper gear and then freezing while trying to survive.

    The four who sustained the worst injuries were found at the bottom of a ravine…of course neithet show bothered to mention the forty foot drop they probably took getting there.

    Yes…again shame on Discovery for making a circus of this for cash instead of a good documentary.

    I am not watching one more mocumentary from this channel.

  4. Hapa responds:

    When it comes to some discovery channel ‘Documentaries”, some other documentary series online, and with Major Skeptics, I am very skeptical. I don’t have to rehash the reasons why I am of the latter, but the former is due to the fact that there have been two mockumentaries on the Discovery channel that were passed at first as legit (and made to look legit), and there have been some subtle clues in some other shows on crytpids that makes me wince when I see it (I have started seeing some of these “Mountain Monster” shows, and each videotape of a so-called cryptid by a hillbilly looks a lot like CGI). It is really infuriating that they have muddled what “Documentary” really means, to the point that I am on a knife edge when watching some of these shows.

    When it comes to the Russian Yeti supposedly killing these people, my skeptical mind was already in overdrive: they had two mockumentaries on before it, and the bodies shown in the old footage didn’t seem to have been black enough to have been those of people who had lied dead in the icy wilderness of the Urals (though maybe skin wont darken or darken much with intense cold after the body dies, I don’t know). I did some research and concluded that such an event occurred, but beyond that, its all speculation. There was mention of a woman’s tongue being ripped out (I’ve heard that it is near impossible to rip a rabbit’s tongue out) not bit off, not cut off, ripped off. The eyewitnesses of the found bodies talking about huge footprints, notes from the hikers saying that the “Snowman exists”, and several other things seems to show that an animal of some kind was to blame. But then again the Hikers might have frozen to death and something out there was eating the remains, but couldn’t eat them all because maybe the bodies froze too much, making it hard to impossible to eat (American Lions abandoned Steppe Bison and other animals they brought down if the cold made the body too hard).

    Still, we don’t necessarily have to invoke Yetis into the mix; the jury is still out. But considering the shenanigans of discovery channel, the shenanigans of skeptics who are bound and determined to debunk even their own hairstyles, it seems impossible to me whether we can learn enough to decide how much of the doc was bull and how much, if any of it, was fake. Certainly, it was skewed towards a Bigfoot culprit.

    Sad day when we have seen so much fiction on Discovery channel that we cannot tell which is which anymore. Has such sleight of hand spread to other channels?

    BTW: Unless the Menk is substantially larger than the local Brown Bears of the region, I doubt they could rip a bear apart. They would have to be quite enormous to do that, and I have heard mixed accounts as to how big the Menk supposedly is (if it is man sized, no way it could rip it apart. Nada.). Remember, Bears walk on all fours, while Yetis walk upright; logic should dictate that the animal that uses its forelimbs more often (Bears walk using forelimbs, Yetis don’t) is the stronger animal. I personally feel that a six hundred to seven hundred pound Sasquatch might have trouble subdoing a 400 lbs gorilla (also walks upright, and has proportionally longer, larger limbs). Unless these animals are truly enormous, i.e. Gigantopithecus Blacki enormous (10 feet tall, 1200 lbs), and the bears are tiny (some Eurasian Brown bears average over two hundred lbs, maybe less), I doubt such bear-ripping stories.

  5. MattPriceTime responds:

    While i’ll get into such things on subject later, i’m infuriated you reposted that shlock piece of journalism on the subject. I already attempted posting on there very site why it’s a joke. If that passes for what an honest skeptic thinks, then they are no better than local yokes that believe in things with little proof. I would be embarrassed if my “expert” ever gave me an argument like seen on skepticblog. Don’t encourage want-to-be journalists that should have no reason publishing anything.

    Now that being said, the “yeti theory” here to be is just as wonky as the “alien theory” or the “avalanche theory”.

    It was more than likely the noise of the long since believed missile test that scared the hikers. Two of which leaving half dressed and dying from hypothermia. The rest probably rushed after them. The groups suffering heavy falls sustaining injuries (including the biting off of a tongue) and post-death decomposition.

    Reports of government interruption is clearly due to them hiding the fact they tested a weapon in an area and is probably the cause of the paranoia that caused the death. Not any of the other fringe theories.

    They just don’t hold up to actual skepticism. If we are to believe they all were chased out of the tent at once, how does the rest make sense. They went to build a fire, two died they took their clothes and continued on in two different directions and were hunted down? No. No. No.

    Far more likely those two were on their own, the others who weren’t originally scared double layered to carry their clothes when they found them. Obviously they would have been sleepy since this happened when they were supposed to be sleeping and the weather is not the best, increasing the odds they could have fallen.

    An avalanche would have more than likely buried them all in the tent and they wouldn’t have been able to escape in the first place, and if they did they would have had to take some time to plan it, so they would have all had as much gear on as they could.

    Now IF they did see a yeti (or mistake something as a yeti) that is a sidestory to this. Not the big story. If the yeti is at fault here (if it’s even real) the most i could see happening is that the noise of something else moving around confused from the missile caused more paranoia

    Now that being said, for the most part this documentary appeared on the upside compared to others. It however was very much TAKING A MINOR FRINGE THEORY AS IF IT WAS FACT. And again skepticblog seems to want to be cynical and ignore the parts of it than anyone with a brain can see were dramatized (was the writer too busy going “lol yeti” to notice all the horror movie looking recreation scenes of the hikers. Or how about the interviews and investigation scenes that had added music and commercial space for suspense? If people aren’t smart enough to know that is called “dramatization”, they don’t really have any right to be talking to people about whether a yeti does or does not exist.

    Bad believers and bad skeptics are both equally part of the problem. That special clearly had an example of a bad believer. And that blog has an example of a bad skeptic. Neither should be encouraged.

  6. slick1ru2 responds:

    I think Bill Birnes is running Discovery’s documentary division.

  7. springheeledjack responds:

    The real question is what made nine experienced hikers and outdoors people abandon their tent and only real means of survival in bitter temperatures, without proper clothing and gear? Obviously something dire and something that happened really fast or they would have had time to put on boots, coats, clothes.

    From what I read there was a set of tracks but it could have been them heading out–what I read didn’t necessarily sound like it was a trail from some big critter. Also, I do remember that investigators on the scene did not find tracks such that it looked like something walked in to camp.

    No, they encountered something that was outside their normal realm of experience and it frightened all of them to the extent that they were sure they were going to die if they didn’t leave right then and there.

    The show gives no credible evidence that they were being stalked by a yeti. They had journals, and outside of one reference to a yeti (and from the book I read it was more of a jest than a real comment), there was no indication that anything out of the normal was going on with the group until that night on the mountain.

    I think it’s a real mystery and the Discovery Channel did nothing to get to the bottom of it, or to show any kind of respect toward the hikers that met their end.

  8. slick1ru2 responds:

    I’d like to know if the last journal entry they mentioned about knowing the wild man is real actually exists. The two photos, of the figure and lights are real.

    The only ‘proof’ of a possible Yeti attack are)

    The dark humanoid photo

    Large footprints found at the scene

    Bizarre crush injuries

    Heck, that could be a photo of an EBE for all we know, lol.

  9. chadgatlin responds:

    I miss the old Discovery Channel that was at least to some degree about education. I miss MonsterQuest, UFO Files, and shows like that. They were plenty entertaining while not fabricating stories. But I guess I shouldn’t be shocked in a time when “The Learning Channel” has Honey Boo Boo as it’s headliner.

  10. Hapa responds:


    “But I guess I shouldn’t be shocked in a time when “The learning Channel” has Honey Boo Boo as its headliner.”

    Two things that should never, ever had gone together. That’s sadder than the scene in Old yeller where Old Yeller the dog gets shot.

  11. HairyFoot responds:

    I was able to watch the Discovery show “Megalodon” (or whatever the beast is called) immediately prior to the Dyatlov/Menk show.
    I got to see 2 shows, illustrating the Discovery Channel’s ‘formula’ for serving up a combination of factual info, eyewitness accounts, etc.,
    then a real attempt to conjure up the beast in real life.

    National Geographic meets Hollywood.

    The Megalodon show laid out the new scientific facts and documentation of the incident(s), then it showed a team going to the site of the incident, basically filming with hand-held cameras in a low-budget format. The production was identical in both shows.

    Give the audience some real new scientific data to chew on.

    This is the real value of the show; communicate the actual details of the actual historic events, then back it up with eyewitness reports. Then, unfortunately, they feel they have to film some new footage of the site of the event, and let the cameras roll, giving the audience
    the impression that we’re witnessing some kind of supernatural witch-hunt.

    Of course, we could all live without the Hollywood production, because it defiles and dilutes the actual story and facts.

    I feel like I actually learned something from both shows, relative to the events they portrayed, while simultaneously getting a bad taste of sensationalist marketing techniques.

    We have to do our best to absorb the facts, while ignoring the spin.

  12. Dr Kaco responds:

    OK so i see it as a positive for opening the eyes of total skeptics. The Alma has been featured on many Cryptid shows. One has to take these Mockumentaries with a grain of salt. I love found footage movies. This is in the same scope. Its FAKE, not real. Don’t watch it if you want REAL data. Watch it if you’re bored and KNOW it’s FAKE.

  13. mike4rest responds:

    In my view the best suspect is the guy that got out alive!

    That’s where Police would start looking first!

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