Mountains - Life in Thin Air Human Planet


Mountains - Life in Thin Air

Film exploring the ways in which people survive at extreme altitudes where nature becomes utterly unforgiving, from lush cloud forests to bare summits.


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Transcript


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Only one creature has carved a life for itself

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in every habitat on Earth.

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That creature is us.

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All over the world we still use our ingenuity to survive in the wild places,

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far from the city lights, face to face with raw nature.

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This is the Human Planet.

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Mountains are among the most brutal environments on Earth.

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Weather here can shift from tropical to arctic in just hours.

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And the higher you climb, the tougher it gets...

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...until even oxygen is stripped away.

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But millions of people live in the mountains...

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...either seeking refuge from conflict

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or exploiting resources found nowhere else.

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And to survive they have had to adapt

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in the most surprising and ingenious ways.

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These are their stories.

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DRAMATIC MUSIC

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MEWING WHOOP

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GELADA BARKS

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SQUEALS

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WIND HOWLS AND GUSTS

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The Altai mountains in Mongolia are among the most remote on Earth.

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And for the people who live in this barren landscape,

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hunting is nearly impossible.

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Unless you have help.

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Sailau Jadik and his son Berik are Kazakhs.

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And today they're in search of the ultimate hunting partner.

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A golden eagle.

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TRANSLATED FROM KAZAKH

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These young birds are almost ready to leave the nest.

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If 16-year-old Berik can collect one, he will take his first step

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towards becoming a Kazakh hunter like his father.

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CHICKS CHEEP

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It's a big first step.

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EAGLE CHICKS CHEEP

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Ever since the Kazakhs fled into these mountains nearly 200 years ago,

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they have been stealing baby eagles.

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Eagles have eyes many times more powerful than a human's

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and can spot prey two kilometres away.

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If Berik can teach this eagle to hunt for him,

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he will join the few hundred Kazakhs left who can still do this.

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Berik calls his new eagle Balapan.

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If he gets it right, Balapan will become his hunting partner.

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But training her will take five months.

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It's five months later, and time for Berik and a fully grown Balapan

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to go on their first hunt together.

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They're after a Mongolian fox,

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an animal so elusive, only an eagle stands a chance of catching it.

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But for Balapan to catch the fox, Berik first has to take her to high ground.

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Here she'll have the perfect vantage point to spot the slightest movement.

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BALAPAN CALLS

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Berik now hopes that Balapan's hunting instinct will take over.

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SAILAU SHOUTS

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WHOOPING

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MEWING WHOOP

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FOX GROWLS

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Balapan has failed.

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For Berik, this is worrying.

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Does she have the killer instinct?

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Traditionally, Kazakh hunters pair up with their eagles for seven years

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before setting them free,

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but Berik now has his doubts.

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BALAPAN CALLS

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As day breaks, father and son return to the mountains.

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If Balapan can't catch a fox,

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Berik may have to let her go and find another eagle to train.

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SHOUTING

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MEWING WHOOP

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Balapan has caught the fox, just as she was trained to.

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She's now locked in a fight to the death.

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HORSE WHINNIES

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Sailau kills the fox as quickly as he can.

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According to Kazakh tradition, Balapan gets the fox's lungs.

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The fox's thick coat will be used for winter clothing.

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Berik has proved himself to be a successful Kazakh hunter.

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As long as they have lived in the Altai Mountains,

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Kazakhs have relied on eagles.

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However, not all mountain people get help from wild animals.

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On the edge of Africa's Great Rift Valley,

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geological upheaval has created Ethiopia's Simien mountains.

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Here, giant cliffs form a natural fortress

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where for centuries people have sought refuge from conflicts below.

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Getabit village is one of a hundred perched in a landscape so vertical

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that the residents can only grow their crops on tiny strips of land

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along the edges of cliffs.

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VILLAGERS SING

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But 700-foot precipices are the least of their worries.

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Today their annual harvest is under way,

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and their grain is under attack from a ravenous enemy.

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SHRIEKING

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These are gelada monkeys and they love stealing the farmers' grain.

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Troops of up to 600 prowl the cliffs surrounding Getabit village,

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led by males with fangs larger than a lion's.

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They are cunning thieves.

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To defend their crops against the monkeys,

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the cliff farmers depend on their children,

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such as 12-year-old Dereje.

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DEREJE WHOOPS

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Because the area is next to a national park, the gelada are protected.

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As night approaches, the geladas stop raiding.

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But Dereje's crops are ripe for harvest, and he knows that tomorrow

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the monkeys will attack even more aggressively than before.

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So, with his two sisters and brother, he camps by his fields.

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At night, temperatures plummet below freezing.

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While the thick-furred geladas have adapted to the cold,

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the humans must huddle together for warmth.

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At dawn, the geladas attack.

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GELADAS WHOOP

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DEREJE SHOUTS

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The first strike comes from a few large males,

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who target Dereje's haystacks.

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He drives them off,

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but the geladas are cunning - these males were only a decoy.

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Out of sight at the other end of Dereje's fields,

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the main army launches the real attack.

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A big troop like this can strip a field in minutes.

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MAN CONTINUES TO SHOUT WARNING

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DEREJE SHOUTS

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If Dereje doesn't hurry,

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the food his family needs to get through the winter will be gone.

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GELADAS SHRIEK

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GELADAS SHRIEK AND BARK

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Dereje's done it. He's seen off the gelada.

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Finally, his crops are harvested.

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THEY SING

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Dereje lives in the Simiens

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because his ancestors sought refuge here centuries ago.

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But in some parts of the world, people settle in mountains

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because this environment has something they desperately want.

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LOW RUMBLING EXPLOSIONS

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Mountains are born when continental plates collide.

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This massive upheaval often exposes a wealth of valuable minerals.

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Nowhere more so than here in Indonesia,

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home to more active volcanic mountains than any nation on Earth.

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Here, people risk their lives

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for a mineral vital to several important industries.

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Sulphur.

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Hartomo and Sulaiman are sulphur miners.

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Today, they're going where few others dare.

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Into the heart of an active volcano.

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This is Ijen crater, one of the most poisonous places on Earth.

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At its centre, a lake filled with

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two-and-a-half million tonnes of acid.

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And out of the depths of the mountain pour toxic gases

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that have claimed the lives of 74 miners in the past 40 years.

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The hydrogen sulphide that these men must breathe in

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is 40 times the safe level.

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Over time, it destroys their lungs.

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THEY COUGH

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Once they have enough sulphur,

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Hartomo and Sulaiman have to carry it

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200 metres straight up to the crater rim.

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Each man hefts 90 kilos,

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nearly one-and-a-half times their own body weight.

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This work exacts a heavy price on the miners' bodies.

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Sulaiman and Hartomo are paid five dollars per load.

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The lives of miners have always been hard.

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But it's not just miners who have it tough.

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For some mountain dwellers, just finding food can be a challenge.

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In the South Pacific lies the world's second largest island, New Guinea.

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This is one of the most biologically rich mountain landscapes on Earth.

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With plenty of water, and thousands of protected valleys,

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these mountains brim with life.

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Yet hunting for food, particularly meat, is surprisingly difficult.

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Marcus, Andrew and George are hunters

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from the Yangoru Boiken tribe.

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They and their families haven't eaten any fresh meat for two weeks.

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But today they plan to solve the problem.

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They hope to trap giant fruit bats.

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But to catch a giant bat requires a giant bat trap.

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So these men are doing something radical.

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They're changing the shape of the landscape itself.

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Along this ridge, the men create a 70-foot wide doorway.

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A shortcut through the mountains to the fruit trees beyond

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and a perfect place to ambush the bats.

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Like spiders, the men spin a gigantic web.

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In the dark, this 130-foot high net cannot be detected by the bats.

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Only two things now remain.

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Add the bat alert signal...

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BATS CHIRP AND SQUEAK

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...and pray the bats fly into their trap.

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MEN CHATTER QUIETLY IN LOCAL DIALECT

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Catching bats requires patience.

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In the past, Marcus has spent weeks on the mountain

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and come home empty-handed.

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But if he does manage to catch even a few, the effort will be worthwhile.

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BAT SQUEALS

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It's a good start, but with all the mouths to feed at home,

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they're going to need more than one bat.

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As the hours roll on, their trap continues to catch bats.

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In the course of the night, the men catch a total of 15 bats.

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They cook two now and save the rest.

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Their haul will provide their families

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with enough protein for two weeks.

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Every part of the bat is edible, down to the leather on the wings.

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For Andrew, Marcus and George,

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knowing every inch of their mountain habitat

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enables them to feed their families.

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But in colder climes, knowing every inch of your mountain

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can mean the difference between life and death.

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In the Swiss Alps, ten metres of snow can fall in a year.

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And for millions of skiers, this is a brilliant reason to come here.

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But heavy snowfalls can also pose a deadly threat.

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Avalanches.

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ROARING RUMBLE

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Travelling faster than a bullet train,

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a major avalanche annihilates everything in its path.

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In any given winter,

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there can be 30,000 avalanches in the Swiss Alps alone.

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Ski patrolman Martin Mathys is an avalanche spotter.

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And today he has a big problem.

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In his hometown of Grindelwald, there has been a massive snowfall.

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The risk of avalanche is now extreme.

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Towering 1,000 metres above Grindelwald

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is the notorious Black Horn ridge.

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Packed with snow, it's a disaster waiting to happen.

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So Martin must set off a controlled avalanche now

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before any more snow falls.

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To set off a controlled avalanche, you need dynamite, plenty of it.

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Martin is taking 50 kilos, enough to blow up several city blocks.

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Martin reaches the summit of the Black Horn ridge, and sets a charge.

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EXPLOSION

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He triggers a mini avalanche, shifting over ten tonnes of snow.

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But it's not enough. He needs to go again.

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EXPLOSION

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LOW RUMBLING

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This time, Martin succeeds.

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This is the avalanche he needs to make the mountain safe.

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High in the Alps, mountain people have learnt

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to control the threat of avalanches with modern technology.

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But there are mountains where the forces of nature cannot be tamed.

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The Himalaya is the highest mountain range on Earth.

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The world's tallest hundred mountains are all here.

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And within these peaks live 70 million people,

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many at altitudes that pose a threat to the human body.

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In the Doramba region of Nepal, the residents face an insidious threat.

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Dangerously high levels of harmful UV rays pierce the thin mountain air

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and burn people's eyes.

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And here in the village of Balau,

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65-year-old Teteeni has paid a heavy price.

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She's blind.

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Teteeni is determined not to let blindness interfere with her life,

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but simple tasks, such as fetching water, now take longer

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and can be treacherous.

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Her blindness is caused by cataracts,

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a fogging of her lenses exacerbated by the intense mountain sun.

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But isolated here in the Himalaya,

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Teteeni has no access to medical treatment.

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Fortunately, an answer to her prayers may be just around the corner.

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From Kathmandu,

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Dr Sanduk Ruit has pioneered a method of eye surgery

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that he brings to the remote corners of the Himalaya.

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His mobile clinic brings hope to thousands.

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And today, Teteeni is setting off to join them.

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She has arranged for the only transportation

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available to her in these mountains.

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A friend has offered to carry her

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ten kilometres to the Doramba clinic.

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While Dr Ruit's success rate is high, there is still a strong chance

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that Teteeni's eyes are too far gone to be saved.

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He makes no promises.

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Doramba's schoolhouse is now an improvised operating theatre.

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It takes Dr Ruit just half an hour to remove Teteeni's fogged lenses.

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He then replaces them

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with a synthetic lens he manufactures himself.

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In the West, this operation could cost 8,000.

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But, funded by charity, Dr Ruit doesn't charge his patients a single rupee.

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With surgery now complete, Teteeni can only wait.

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Just 24 hours after her operation, Teteeni joins hundreds of patients

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waiting to have their bandages removed, hopefully with her sight restored.

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For Teteeni, this is the moment of truth.

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THEY SING

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For the first time in three years, Teteeni can see.

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In the Himalayan foothills,

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modern medicine is helping prolong

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the lives of the people who live here.

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But, as you climb higher in these mountains,

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it's how to deal with death that poses a problem.

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At over 4,000 metres,

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Dho Tarap is one of the highest communities on Earth.

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BELLS TOLL

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Buddhists live here in almost complete isolation.

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And when someone dies at this altitude,

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dealing with the corpse is a real challenge.

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Last night, there was a death in the village.

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70-year-old Nombe-la passed away,

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and now his family are preparing his body for a Buddhist funeral.

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The man in charge of this funeral is Holy Lama Namgyal.

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Lama Namgyal needs to hold the funeral soon

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because Nombe-la's corpse could attract predators and spread disease.

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But when you live at the roof of the world, your options are limited.

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Buddhists don't bury their dead.

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And at this altitude no trees grow, so there is no wood for a cremation.

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The solution is a sacred ritual older than Buddhism itself.

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A sky burial.

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To conduct the sky burial ritual,

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Lama Namgyal needs the help of a specialist.

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BHARMAY FURBA INTONES

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Bharmay Furba is the undertaker.

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As a non-Buddhist, he is the only one

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who is allowed to carry out this most difficult task.

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THEY CHANT, BELLS RING

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RHYTHMIC PERCUSSIVE BEATS

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The funeral procession heads an hour-and-a-half up into the mountains

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to a sacred ledge where sky burials have been performed

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for over 1,000 years.

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Here, they will rendezvous

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with the most efficient scavengers in these mountains.

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Vultures.

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For millennia,

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Buddhists in these mountains have relied on the griffon vulture

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and the lammergeier to help them dispose of their dead.

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These birds swiftly consume a corpse before it can spread disease.

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Buddhists see this as a sacred act,

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an offering that will sustain the life of another being.

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For them, Nombe-la's corpse is now an empty vessel.

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His soul has already migrated to another realm.

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Nombe-la's sons pay their final respects to their father.

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But they don't wish to be present for what is about to take place.

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Because for the vultures to consume Nombe-la's corpse quickly,

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Bharmay must make it easier for them.

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RHYTHMIC BEATS AND BELLS RING

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HORN PLAYS

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Nombe-la's corpse is now gone and cannot spread disease.

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To survive in the mountains, you have to understand them.

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Mountain habitats can be brutal

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but if you use your ingenuity, determination,

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resourcefulness and courage

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it is possible to make a life here at the roof of the world.

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When the Human Planet mountains team filmed the Mongolian eagle hunters,

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their search for a fox was like finding a needle in a haystack.

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Keeping up with the hunters also proved near impossible

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in the vast Mongolian landscape.

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The team are here to film Sailau and his son Berik

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hunting with their eagle, Balapan.

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Cameraman Keith Partridge last met Berik in June with his newborn chick.

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It's now November and bitterly cold - an ideal time for hunting,

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when wolves, foxes and rabbits all have thick winter coats.

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Unlike the wildlife,

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the old Russian trucks are not well adapted to the cold

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so the drivers devise a novel solution.

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Keith opts for a different ride.

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The fact is

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that I haven't even ridden a donkey across Blackpool beach.

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And we've now got to go up there

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on one of these.

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Does my horse have a name?

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They don't have names?

0:50:220:50:24

The Mongolians have more than 300 words

0:50:270:50:30

just to describe the horse colours.

0:50:300:50:33

Wow!

0:50:330:50:34

You know that to make it go, you slightly kick and you should say,

0:50:340:50:39

-"Shu!"

-OK, shall we follow Agii?

0:50:390:50:41

Thank you.

0:50:410:50:43

That's it. Shu!

0:50:430:50:45

Shu!

0:50:450:50:47

Shu!

0:50:480:50:50

Eventually, Keith finds the gears and off he goes.

0:50:500:50:54

After three hours, the trucks catch up,

0:50:570:51:00

and Keith's only too happy to leave his horse behind.

0:51:000:51:03

BALAPAN CHEEPS

0:51:030:51:04

What does he think?

0:51:060:51:07

-Except my nose?

-HE CHUCKLES

0:51:150:51:17

Is it too big?

0:51:170:51:19

There you go, no frostbite!

0:51:240:51:27

Keith heads off to test a small "eagle-cam",

0:51:300:51:33

for which Sailau has made a harness.

0:51:330:51:37

There are cameras that might give us a better picture quality

0:51:380:51:42

but they're much bigger

0:51:420:51:43

so we're playing this trade-off game all the time

0:51:430:51:47

between practicalities and quality.

0:51:470:51:49

Anyway, we'll see how it goes.

0:51:490:51:51

Sailau's eagle seems

0:51:550:51:57

to fly quite happily with the eagle-cam on her back.

0:51:570:52:00

Encouraged by the first test, they use a heavier high-definition camera.

0:52:000:52:05

This will be amazing if this works.

0:52:070:52:09

We don't even know if the bird will take the weight.

0:52:090:52:12

We might have overloaded the plane, so to speak.

0:52:120:52:15

The eagle flies beautifully. Keith and the team head back to base,

0:52:210:52:25

joining director Nic Brown to view the results.

0:52:250:52:29

It's a very tense moment.

0:52:290:52:30

The locals join in for a bird's-eye view.

0:52:300:52:34

They've never seen their eagles quite like this before.

0:52:340:52:38

-The hood's off!

-Hood's off.

0:52:380:52:39

Off we go. Whoa!

0:52:390:52:42

-How small, my God. Really wild!

-Look at his head!

0:52:420:52:46

Wow, look at that banking round with the head.

0:52:510:52:53

Wow! That's pretty wicked, isn't it?

0:52:530:52:58

The next day,

0:53:000:53:01

the crew follow Berik and his young eagle on their first fox hunt.

0:53:010:53:06

The hunters shadow sweepers -

0:53:060:53:08

men who flush the foxes out into the open.

0:53:080:53:12

The team must constantly move from peak to peak

0:53:130:53:16

to give the eagles the best chance of seeing a fox.

0:53:160:53:19

Sailau thinks that the fox might be hiding

0:53:190:53:22

over these small mounds just behind these telegraph lines.

0:53:220:53:26

He would like to go to one of those hills and wait there.

0:53:260:53:30

It seems to make sense that we've got to head there.

0:53:300:53:33

Well, you'd better be fast, mate, cos he's just gone.

0:53:330:53:35

There he goes.

0:53:350:53:36

LAUGHING

0:53:360:53:38

After packing up quickly, the film crew race after the hunters.

0:53:390:53:44

But as soon as Keith starts filming, the plans seem to change yet again.

0:53:450:53:50

Sailau's now moved off again so, er, time to go.

0:53:510:53:54

We've only been here for two minutes.

0:53:540:53:56

This set the pattern of the day.

0:53:580:54:00

As Sailau and Berik move from peak to peak,

0:54:000:54:04

so do the team, constantly playing catch-up in the thin, high-altitude air.

0:54:040:54:10

Finally, near exhaustion, they face a new problem.

0:54:100:54:14

Where is Sailau?

0:54:160:54:18

They call the director.

0:54:190:54:21

Nic, Nic. This is Keith, do you read? Over.

0:54:210:54:24

'Hi, yeah, how are you?'

0:54:240:54:26

We're on our third mountain range of the day so far and still no luck.

0:54:260:54:31

'Which mountain range are you on now? Over.'

0:54:310:54:34

If only we knew!

0:54:360:54:38

Behind us are the really big peaks with no snow on.

0:54:380:54:41

The terrain here is pretty wild, actually,

0:54:410:54:43

and if anything's going to be lurking about,

0:54:430:54:46

I think I'd want to hide around here somewhere.

0:54:460:54:49

Something's in front of that telegraph pole. Is that a dog?

0:54:490:54:52

Let's get the lens on it.

0:54:520:54:53

It's not a wolf, it's a cow!

0:54:590:55:00

I never said it was a wolf, I said it was moving.

0:55:000:55:03

That is very true!

0:55:030:55:04

Do I get the sense that delirium

0:55:040:55:07

is beginning to set in on the third mountain range of the day?

0:55:070:55:11

Would you like some chocolate bars?

0:55:110:55:13

Agii, every day, just at the point where we are about to faint...

0:55:130:55:19

You bust your teeth on them!

0:55:210:55:24

I could ask you, Agii, if you could keep them somewhere slightly warmer!

0:55:240:55:28

They set off yet again.

0:55:340:55:36

Keith and the team are beginning to wonder if they'll ever film a hunt.

0:55:360:55:41

But then, good news.

0:55:410:55:43

We have seen a fox.

0:55:430:55:45

It scarpered really fast down that snowy slope.

0:55:460:55:49

The guys are over there at the moment,

0:55:490:55:51

trying to see where it's hunkered down.

0:55:510:55:53

Once they're out on the snow,

0:55:530:55:55

you can see them pretty easily cos it's a little black dot, scarpering like hell.

0:55:550:55:58

But, um, apart from that, you see this place.

0:55:580:56:02

It's utterly vast. It's like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

0:56:020:56:06

Suddenly, there's a call from the valley and the hunt is on.

0:56:060:56:10

Everybody clear the front of frame, please.

0:56:120:56:14

Now!

0:56:140:56:15

BERIK MAKES MEWING WHOOPS

0:56:160:56:20

I think the fox has made a hasty escape.

0:56:330:56:36

Both Balapan and the crew have learned a lot on their first hunt.

0:56:380:56:42

Still...the team have yet to film a successful hunt.

0:56:440:56:48

After several frustrating days, the pressure to deliver is intense.

0:56:480:56:53

We're fast running out of time, it hasn't been looking very good.

0:56:550:57:00

Just when the crew are resigned to failure, a call is heard.

0:57:000:57:04

Keith knows this is his and Balapan's big chance to succeed.

0:57:070:57:13

MEWING WHOOP

0:57:150:57:16

The bird got it! My word.

0:57:410:57:43

When all those whoops go off,

0:57:450:57:47

things just go from nought to a million miles an hour in two or three seconds.

0:57:470:57:52

Your heart races when you are doing this sort of stuff,

0:57:520:57:56

and you just have to respond in a kind of a positive way.

0:57:560:57:58

You know, just try and stay totally focused on what you are here to do.

0:57:580:58:02

When that adrenaline kicks in, it's easy to get distracted,

0:58:020:58:05

but you have to just think,

0:58:050:58:07

"Right, now is the time I've got to up my game,

0:58:070:58:09

"knuckle down and focus on getting the shot and making it work."

0:58:090:58:14

And also trying to build some form of relationship

0:58:140:58:17

with the people that you are working with as well.

0:58:170:58:19

So that they trust us

0:58:190:58:20

and welcome us into what's quite an intimate part of their lives.

0:58:200:58:25

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:510:58:52

E-mail subtitling@bbc.co.uk

0:58:520:58:55

From lush cloud forests to bare summits that take your breath away, the higher you climb the tougher life gets on a mountain. Human Planet explores the extraordinary ways in which people survive at extreme altitudes where nature becomes utterly unforgiving.

In the Altai Mountains in western Mongolia, the vast open spaces make hunting for animals almost impossible, so the locals have forged an astonishing partnership with golden eagles which can do the hunting for them.

On the precipitous cliffs of the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia we join a young boy locked in a dramatic battle with fearsome gelada monkeys which are hellbent on raiding his family's meagre grain harvest.

In the Himalayan state of Nepal we witness a rarely seen ceremony - a sky burial. In a land where there is little wood to burn for cremation and where burying the dead is virtually impossible, the dead are fed to vultures in the ultimate reverence of nature.