This morning I turned on Sports Center to get the latest update on Pre-Season NFL football and the PGA Championship. Imagine my surprise when they teased a mountaineering story that would be coming up later in the show. It’s rare that ESPN ever covers mountaineering/climbing or most other non-mainstream sports for that matter. Of course, I decided to stick around and see what it was all about.
Turns out, it was a story covering the events detailed in the book An Eye at the Top of the World by Pete Takeda, which I reviewed a few months back. In a nutshell, the story is about an “all-star” group of climbers that the CIA put together in the 60’s to climb Nanda Devi, a remote, and beautiful peak, in Northern India. The plan was for the team to place a listening device at the top of the mountain that would be used to monitor Chinese nuclear and ballistic missile tests.
When the team was turned back below the summit, they elected to leave the device, and it’s nuclear powered battery, on the mountain, and strapped it to a rock ledge, with the intent of returning the following year to complete the mission. When they returned 8 months later, the device was gone, swept off the mountain by an avalanche, carrying four pounds of plutonium with it.
The ESPN segment on the story was actually well done. It handled the story very well and explained the principle characters and events in five minutes, about as well as can be expected. They also explained the mountaineering aspects well, and had some amazing shots of Nanda Devi on top of that. My only complaint on the segment as a whole is that it kind of glossed over the danger of that missing plutonium. They mentioned that it is obvioiusly radioactive and that the sherpas involved with the expedition are all likely dead, and that the climbers involved with the mission have suffered various health issues, but they didn’t mention what would happen if that four pounds of radioactive material were to bust open and spill into the Ganges River, a vitally important resource in India, where hundreds of millions of people gather to make their home. Were that river to become contaminated, the loss of life could be unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
I’m not sure how often they’ll play the segment, and it’s likely it’ll be for today only. Hopefully it’ll show up on YouTube or elsewhere on the Internet, but if you get a chance to see it, overall it was interesting and well done.