Mountains - Life in Thin Air

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Episode 5 of 8

Duration: 1 hour

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 hell-bent on raiding his family's meagre grain harvest. In the Himalayan state of Nepal - the roof of the world - 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.

  • Mountains episode facts

    • The people of the Simien mountains in Ethiopia have developed ways of communicating with each other despite the isolation and distances between many of the villages. Using loud calls and the echoes of the steep mountainside, they can share news with each other up to three miles away.

    • The gelada monkeys only live in the Ethiopian Highlands. They are incredibly expressive animals – they can make more than 30 distinct noises, more than any other Old World monkey. Their frequency range is almost exactly the same as humans.

    • Mongolian Eagle Hunters in Western Mongolia usually keep their Golden Eagles for seven years. After that the eagles are released back into the wild. The birds can then live up to between 15 and 25 years of age.

    • On the Indonesian island of Java, men mine sulphur from inside Ijen crater where there is a lake filled with two and a half million tonnes of acid. The hydrogen sulphide the miners breathe in is around 40 times the safe level set in the UK.

  • Human Planet – Mountains - Kazakh music

    Human Planet – Mountains -  Kazakh music

    Kazakh musician Aigan Badel plays music directly inspired by the eagle hunters and landscape of the Altai Mountains. The footage of the eagle hunters was shot on location in Mongolia during the filming of Human Planet.

    Watch the Kazakh music video
  • Human Planet – Mountains - Men with dynamite

    Human Planet – Mountains -  Men with dynamite

    Two alpine ski patrollers who sometimes detonate explosives to deal with avalanches before they become killers show that even the experts can get things wrong.

    Watch the Men with dynamite video
  • Human Planet – Mountains - The Alps from above

    The Human Planet team take to the air to capture these breath-taking shots of two climbers scaling the Mönch ridge in the Alps.

    Watch The Alps from above video
  • Human Planet – John Hurt narrates Human Planet

    Human Planet – John Hurt narrates Human Planet

    John Hurt adds his inimitable style to the Human Planet series. Take a look behind the scenes at how Human Planet director Nicolas Brown spent a day working with him recording the voice track for the Mountains programme.

    Watch the John Hurt narrates Human Planet video
  • Nicolas Brown, Producer/Director, Arctic and Mountains

    Nicolas Brown, Producer/Director, Arctic and Mountains

    Born in Colorado, Nicolas Brown made his first film in order to get a free ski-lift pass. This led to an adventurous film career during which he has contracted a series of exotic diseases and been bitten by a variety of insects. Today he considers no trip complete without a (hopefully temporary) illness.

    The Arctic and Mountains episodes boast the biggest number of ridiculously cold , remote and difficult locations - perfect for Nicolas. He even got a free lift pass in Switzerland before coming down with gastroenteritis. We're pleased to say he's since made a full recovery.

  • Dina Mufti, Researcher, Arctic and Mountains

    Dina Mufti, Researcher, Arctic and Mountains

    Dina grew up dreaming of the mountains. But it's the people who live in them that have captured her imagination on Human Planet.

    Practice came early. With a Bengali–English heritage she spent her childhood around colourful characters on her grandfather’s veranda, chewing sugar cane and conjuring up stories about his visitors. From that veranda she planned her life as an explorer, just so she could meet people in the Himalaya – a stone's throw from the steamy Bengali plains.

    She got side-tracked for a while, becoming a scientist at Cambridge University, but never lost her love of unusual people. Whilst at Cambridge, some volcanologists spotted her eye for the dramatic and employed her to film them. Filming a volcanic eruption got her a job at the BBC. She has worked for BBC Radio 4 and across a range of arts, science and observational documentaries, earning her a BBC award for creativity.

    Her passion for mountains and volcanoes has prepared her well for the extreme challenges of filming on the Human Planet Mountains team, but it has been the people she’s met who have touched her most.

    From watching a young eagle hunter catch his first fox; to seeing a blind cataracts patient getting her eyesight back; and witnessing a Sky Burial in the High Himalaya – these have been the most extraordinary and rare human experiences of her life.

  • Bethan Evans, Researcher, Arctic and Mountains

    Bethan Evans, Researcher, Arctic and Mountains

    When told she would be working on the Arctic programme Bethan’s first thoughts were “I’m going to freeze to death!” However, three years on and Bethan has a love for everything Arctic, from the stunning frozen landscapes to its warm and welcoming people.

    Bethan has been able to fulfil her ambition of combining work and adventure. Her most memorable experiences on Human Planet include trekking through Papuan jungles, lifting polar bears by helicopter, watching the northern lights while travelling by dog sled and undertaking hostile environment and tree climbing courses. Roll on the next adventure!


John Hurt


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