There are only a dozen peaks in the world that rise five miles high.
All of them are here, in the Himalayas.
Lethally cold, scoured by gales and blizzards, these mountains are among the most hostile places on Earth.
Yet, a few special animals manage to live here.
Like all creatures of the high mountains, they have had to adapt both their body and their behaviour in order to survive.
Life at extreme altitude has shaped some of the toughest animals on the planet.
The sunbaked mountains of the Arabian Peninsula.
They may only be a fraction of the height of the Himalayas, but they are still so dizzyingly steep that in many places it's almost impossible to get a foothold.
Yet Nubian ibex have made this their home.
The ibex choose the steepest cliffs to raise their young, in safety, beyond the reach of predators.
But living in this sanctuary comes with a cost.
These nursery slopes are so steep, there is almost no standing water up here.
So to drink, an ibex family must descend into the valley... 1,000 feet below.
The mothers pick out the safest way down.
With soft cloven hooves that grip better than any climbing shoe, they are the most accomplished mountaineers.
But the newborn kids are still having to find their feet.
This is their first descent.
One mistake could make it their last.
Following the adults, the kids finally reach the valley.
But once on level ground, they're vulnerable.
Red foxes lie in wait.
At the first sign of danger, the young ibex instinctively run back to steeper ground.
But heading for this particular rocky outcrop could be a mistake.
It's a 30-foot drop.
The fox has them trapped... or so it seems.
This is what ibex were born to do.
Scattering makes it hard for the fox to pick a target.
And it certainly can't follow them up here.
All it can do is wait for one to slip and fall.
But these youngsters are fast learners, and they're now almost as sure-footed as their parents.
The fox will have to find its meal elsewhere.
It's just not been a good day.
Now, at last, the young ibex can drink.
But they'll soon need to return to the safety of the sheer cliffs.
Mastering precipitous terrain is always challenging, but there are more fundamental problems for life in the mountains.
The Alps. Europe's highest peaks.
It's winter, and food is desperately short.
A golden eagle has to spend every daylight hour scanning the slopes for something, somewhere, to eat.
Her seven-foot wingspan allows her to glide effortlessly for 100 miles in a single day.
Her extraordinary eyes enable her to spot prey from two miles away.
But she is not the only one who's looking for food.
When she spots a chance, she must move fast.
She can dive at 200 miles an hour.
Only a peregrine is faster.
During winter, even eagles rely almost entirely on carrion.
It's a d*ad fox, and it could sustain her for days.
Other scavengers must defer.
The hungry crows soon regain their courage.
They'll try any trick to steal a morsel.
And they are annoyingly persistent.
But this mob are the least of her worries.
A bigger eagle takes control.
But this k*ll is too important to give up.
So she must fight.
For the moment, she's won the carcass back.
But a k*ll like this will attract every eagle for miles around.
As ever, the strongest wins the lion's share.
Unable to defend the carcass any longer, the first eagle must now continue its search.
It may be many days before she feeds again.
Only the most competitive will survive the perils of the mountain winter.
100,000 tonnes of snow travelling at 80 miles an hour, capable of smashing everything in its path.
The mountains of North America are h*t by thousands of avalanches every year.
Yet one animal spends the whole winter slumbering within the snow on these avalanche-prone slopes.
And when spring comes, they emerge.
All across these mountains, grizzly bears make their winter dens 10,000 feet up in the deep snow of leeward slopes.
And while they were half-asleep in the depths of winter, their young were born.
Now these cubs are taking their first steps into the outside world.
This mother is leading her three youngsters to a place where they can find food.
They need to descend as quickly as possible.
The debris from an avalanche is clear evidence that this slope is still dangerously unstable.
This is not a place to dawdle.
And they have another reason to keep moving.
After five months in the den, these bears are very hungry.
Bears that have hibernated throughout these peaks now all descend to the valleys, where spring comes earliest.
In the Rockies, seasonal change is swift and dramatic.
In just a few days, the slopes turn from white to green.
Meadows that only a few weeks ago were buried beneath the snow are now full of life.
But in these mountains, the good times will not last long.
So the bears must feed as fast as they can.
During the summer months, an adult can put on 180 kilos gorging on plants and, if they can catch them...
...a marmot or two.
But just now, the bears have something else on their minds.
It's becoming warmer, and the bears are keen to shed their thick winter coats.
Mothers show the cubs what to do about this.
They'll soon catch on.
Some trees, it seems, are particularly suitable for rubbing.
Bears have their favourites and will travel long distances to visit them.
Some itches just have to be scratched.
There are now around 30 bears in this one valley.
As they rub, each leaves an individual and recognisable scent.
So the tree soon carries a list of who's around, which might help individuals to avoid a fight.
To best spread their scent, they really have to put their back into it.
But summer is short.
Itches satisfactorily scratched, it's time to eat.
In a couple of months, they will have to return to their dens to hibernate, so now they must put on as much weight as they can.
Winter in the mountains returns fast and hits hard.
Temperatures in the Rockies will drop to -54 degrees, so cold that moisture in the air freezes into tiny crystals called diamond dust.
This bobcat is one of the few hunters to remain active in winter.
Most of his prey is now hidden beneath the snow that covers his entire territory.
He hunts by listening for the faintest sound of movement.
And to prevent crunching footsteps from revealing his presence, he uses boulders as stepping stones.
But one is not enough.
The deeper the snow, the harder it is to detect prey, and the rewards for the effort can be disappointing.
To say the least.
By midwinter, the snow is so deep that bobcats are forced to leave their territories to try and find easier hunting.
And this bobcat may be in luck.
For this particular valley is blessed.
A river here never freezes.
It's fed by a volcanic hot spring that heats these waters to 50 degrees warmer than the surrounding air.
Hungry animals of all kinds come here to feed.
Throughout the winter, the river is full of food for those who know how to catch it.
Here, even the coyotes have become fishermen.
But hunting is hard for a cat that's not used to getting its feet wet.
So he must choose his target with care.
But can he get close enough to pounce?
Perhaps he'll have more luck on the other side.
Here, steam from the river warms the surrounding trees, so up in the branches, there could be prey.
If only he could get to it.
It's 20 feet up.
At last... a squirrel.
Not much, but enough to keep him going.
To survive a winter in these mountains takes tenacity, and bobcats have that in abundance.
Snow on the equator.
Unlike the Rockies, in these mountains there are no marked seasons.
This is Africa's Mount Kenya.
It's 17,000 feet high, which makes its summit some 30 degrees colder than the surrounding savanna.
Giant heathers, lobelias and groundsel grow on its upper slopes.
They all thrive in the tropical sun.
After all, every day is summer.
But once the sun sets, every night becomes as bitterly cold as winter.
The temperature drops to five degrees below freezing, turning the mountainside into a garden of ice.
Everything freezes, but the cabbage groundsels have a way of protecting themselves.
They close up their leathery leaves to form an insulating blanket that shields their vulnerable central bud.
Night comes to an end... and the sunshine returns.
The groundsels spread their leaves wide to bask in the sunshine once again.
Dawn in the High Andes.
Here too, the rising sun brings rapid relief to animals living amongst these volcanic peaks.
Mountain viscacha are up early to claim the best places to catch the sun's first rays.
For others up here, the sunrise is even more welcome.
At over 14,000 feet, this is the highest flamingo colony in the world.
At night, it gets so cold that even this salty water freezes over.
And now the flamingos are trapped in the ice.
Eventually, the sun thins the ice, but it's still a struggle for the flamingos to break free.
Walking on thin ice is always risky.
And it's hard to retain one's dignity... especially when you're wearing stilts.
At these altitudes, the sun's power can quickly turn from salvation to thr*at.
The atmosphere is so thin, there is very little protection from ultraviolet radiation.
By mid-morning, it's risky to linger out in the open.
The viscacha are forced to head for the shade.
Out on the lake, there is nowhere to hide.
The white crust of the soda lake reflects the sun's glare and increases the impact of its ultraviolet rays.
By midday, uncovered human skin will burn in four minutes.
But this doesn't seem to bother the flamingos.
In fact, they are on parade.
During the breeding season, the flamingos perform these peculiar courtship dances even through the hottest time of the day.
They are so eager, they don't even pause to feed.
The rules are something of a mystery but, after a month of dancing, all the birds will have paired off and will be getting ready to mate.
Up here, there are few other creatures to bother the flamingos, but then, few other creatures could even tolerate these conditions.
So for animals that have the endurance, mountains can be sanctuaries.
But rocky peaks which to us, perhaps, seem a symbol of permanence, are more fragile than they appear.
Today in the Alps, human encroachment is changing even the highest summits.
In the Rockies, rising temperatures are shortening winter hibernation and stifling the growth of valuable food plants.
And in the Andes, some glaciers have shrunk by 50% in just 30 years.
Even the Himalayas are now vulnerable.
With most of the world's tallest peaks and covering a third of a million square miles, this is the greatest mountain range of all.
And here, temperatures are now rising faster than the global average.
As the snow line retreats further and further up these peaks, there is less and less space for wildlife, and that is a challenge for one of the most majestic of all mountain creatures.
The snow leopard.
Seldom seen, the detail of their lives has long been a mystery, but now, at last, helped by the latest remote-camera technology, we are getting closer to them than ever before.
They are very rare... only about four of them in 40 square miles.
There is simply not enough prey to sustain more.
They live solitary lives.
Nonetheless, they are well aware of the presence and the movements of their neighbours, because they leave messages in a few special places.
They rub particular rocks with their cheeks... and then spray them with urine.
The two perfumes create a unique signature.
Any other leopard can know which of its neighbours passed this way, without ever making direct contact.
But there are times when snow leopards must come together, and the event is often violent.
An adult female and her daughter.
She has devoted the last two years to raising her cub and very soon, it will be weaned.
For now, the cub is still entirely dependent on its mother.
But staying together as long as this could cause problems.
The female is now in heat again, and any male that smells her signature will know that.
From this moment on, her cub's life is at risk.
Males k*ll cubs that are not their own.
But the mother is now driven by an urge that she cannot control.
She lets the males know exactly where she is.
From up here, she can be heard for miles around.
A young male emerges from the wilderness, eager to find her.
Snow leopards meet so infrequently that there is uncertainty and tension.
And it's about to get worse.
Another, bigger male has arrived.
The mother and cub are trapped between the rivals.
The cub is now in danger.
Mother must act fast.
To divert the males' attention from her cub, she rolls over submissively.
With the males fixed on the female, the cub has a chance to escape.
The males close in on the mother from both sides, keen to claim her for their own.
A fight is inevitable.
The female moves to escape and protect her cub.
But the big male follows her.
He will not let her leave until he has mated with her.
With the males gone, the female is at last reunited with her cub.
But she has been injured.
The cub, however, is alive, thanks to its mother.
Until her injury heals, she won't be able to hunt.
Mountain animals survive on the very edge of existence.
Mother and cub were not seen again.
Until over a month later, high on a ridge, a remote camera was triggered.
The female cat.
She's no longer limping, but she's now alone.
Then, an hour after the female has left, the camera is triggered again.
It's her cub, taking her first steps towards adulthood and independence.
She is unlikely to see her mother again.
But every now and then, they will be reunited through the messages they leave on the marking rocks.
Her mother has succeeded in raising her, but life ahead will be challenging, and she will spend nearly all of it alone.
Only the toughest can survive among the savage beauty of the world's highest mountains.
Revealing a new perspective on the lives of golden eagles in the mountains would take two very different approaches.
A traditional wildlife crew set out to film wild eagles closer than ever before.
Whilst an aerial team aimed to capture the hunting flights of eagles high in the mountains.
The helicopter crew soon have success in filming wild eagles high over the Alps, but there was one part of the story even they couldn't follow.
Golden eagles can stoop at 200 miles an hour.
To capture an eagle's-eye view of such a dramatic flight would take a more extreme approach.
I'm Aaron Durogati and I'm a professional paraglider pilot.
Aaron believes that to fly like a bird, he must think like one, too.
It's a very special feeling to fly with eagles because I'm really looking how they are thermalling and where they go to soar.
This helps me to become a better pilot, and I try to take inspiration from the nature.
Wearing a specially designed helmet camera, Aaron's aim is to film the perspective of a diving eagle.
But before he can jump off a mountain, first he needs to climb it.
It's a tough 3,000m ascent for Aaron and his wingman, Armin, as director Emma Brennand waits for news in the valley below.
The ascent is slowed by a series of dangerous crevasses.
After a tricky climb, they finally reach their launch site.
But the weather up here is unpredictable and a change in wind direction makes it impossible to take off.
Aaron and Armin are forced to overnight in the summit shelter, and with the cold knocking out their comms, Emma is worrying.
They're well-trained mountain guides, but it doesn't make it any easier to know that.
I think it's going to be a fairly restless night for me as well.
Whilst the paragliders prepare for a night on the mountain... cameraman Barrie Britton is setting out early on a more cautious quest to film wild golden eagles from a hide.
I've got to get everything set while it's still dark and the eagles can't see what we're up to.
Or if they saw any movement around the hide, then they'd fly away and probably wouldn't come back for a few days.
They're notoriously difficult birds to film.
Even hide work is not entirely without risks.
It's -20 outside. So this is a crucial part of the operation, making sure the f*re works so we don't freeze to death.
Aah! Well, that's all the hairs gone on my hand!
And we just have to be really quiet now and hope the eagles come in when first light comes up.
Eight sedentary hours later, Barry's only reward is a d*ad leg.
We haven't done a single sh*t today.
Nothing has come.
Anyway, that's the way it goes.
After a long night on top of the mountain, the weather is only getting worse.
The team need to get down, but visibility's so poor that descending on foot past the crevasses is too risky.
Aaron decides it's safer to fly, but it'll be a bumpy ride.
Thick cloud makes it hard to avoid the mountains, let alone film them.
Thankfully, they make it down in one piece, much to Emma's relief.
We are very, very glad to see you both.
Yeah, it's a bit hard up there.
The team spend the next two weeks chasing weather windows... until at last, a clear flight.
Trying to mimic a diving eagle, the flying looks spectacular, but the helmet-cam sh*ts are less so.
To stay safe at these speeds, Aaron must turn his head regularly to check his glider, and that is making the sh*ts unusable.
The team must quickly come up with a new plan.
Back in the hide, all has been quiet until Barrie spots an eagle scavenging on a fox carcass.
Barrie repositions his hide to keep watch.
After 100 hours in the hide, finally, his luck changes.
That's one terrifying bird there.
For me, it's fantastic just to see them so close.
It's just beautiful.
With Barrie's success, it's now down to the paragliding team.
They've come to the Mont Blanc range with a new plan.
Aaron's decided that the best way to keep safe and get stable sh*ts is to fly tandem with a cameraman.
We've got to try and mimic how an eagle flies, which is pretty hard because they're basically like the top bird of prey.
John is nervous.
It's his first-ever flight.
Three, two, one, go.
How is it?
Ah, man, that was a shock.
Overcoming his initial fears, John begins filming.
If you can go right of this, that'd be cool.
The tandem wing allows John to get the sh*ts that Aaron was unable to get flying solo.
Awesome, Aaron, very good.
But it's not all plain sailing.
The feeling of discomfort only gets worse as Aaron begins the eagle dive.
I feel sick!
Flying low and fast like an eagle leaves little room for error.
(LAUGHING:) A little bit too much, do you think?
Sorry, what did you call it, an unplanned landing?
They might not be as majestic as a golden eagle, but they do capture a unique perspective that conveys an eagle's life as never before.
Next time... we explore the world's jungles.
Places of surprise and invention unrivaled on Earth... where the battle for survival is at its most intense.
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01x02 - Mountains
Episode transcripts for the TV show "Planet Earth II". Aired: November 2016 to December 2016.
"Planet Earth II" is a nature documentary presented and narrated Sir David Attenborough.
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1 post • Page 1 of 1