Nanda Devi’s Nuclear Secret and a Botched CIA Operation

Carrying the 56 kg listening device in deteriorating weather conditions at 23,000 feet was going to be a Herculean task. Prioritising the need for a quick descent to minimise the risk to the lives of his fellow climbers, Kohli decided to ditch the equipment in the high camp. He reasoned that another expedition could always be mounted when weather conditions improved, in order to retrieve the device. On the other hand, the life of a fellow climber was irreplaceable.
Thus, with all the climbers having safely descended, the expedition came to an end. Being late in the year, the weather window to climb Nanda Devi was now closed. Any new expedition would have to bide their time till the following year. The nuclear device too, abandoned on a high precipice of the mountain, would have to wait.
Plan B
With the arrival of spring in 1966, a second expedition was launched to locate the equipment, and most importantly the nuclear device, that had been left the previous autumn. The composition of the climbing team was more or less the same, and soon they were scouring the slopes of Nanda Devi, trying to find their highly valuable and potentially dangerous belongings. But it was all in vain. Upon reaching their high camp from the previous year, they found their campsite had vanished, and there was a large mass of snow and rock in its place. The nuclear device was nowhere to be found.
The panic-stricken climbers immediately reported this to their CIA and IB handlers, and there was much to and fro between Delhi, the Base Camp, and the high camps on the mountain itself, in an attempt to understand where their nuclear device could have vanished. While many believed an avalanche must have swept their camp, more sinister explanations began to be voiced as well.
The idea of an undercover Pakistani expedition that happened to steal the device to further their own nuclear programme was seen as plausible, although an expedition of such scale not having been noticed by any Indian authority made it highly unlikely. Within the CIA, however, some were suspicious of their Indian counterparts, believing that the Indians had pocketed the device for the development of their own nuclear capability. Regardless of what had actually happened, the device was never recovered.