Are you a mountain person or do you prefer the beach? If it’s the former, BBC2’s new natural history series will have you reaching for your hiking boots and may inspire you to think bigger for your next adventure.
Mountain: Life at the Extreme is about the animals and people who inhabit the Andes, the Himalayas and the Rockies. “These high mountain ranges are incredibly difficult places to live – the air is thin, there’s nothing to eat, the weather is absolutely appalling and yet somehow they manage to carve out a life at the top of the world,” says series producer Steve Greenwood.
There’s some breathtaking footage in episode one, which explores the spine of North America: the Rocky Mountains stretch from Colorado, through the Midwest of the USA and into Canada, to the frozen edge of the Yukon. “They’re 3,000 miles long, so four times the length of Britain. There are so many mountains that some don’t even have names – places you can go and walk for a week or two and never see another human being, although you might see a grizzly bear. It’s good old-fashioned wilderness.”
Grizzlies do feature in the series, but the animal Greenwood is proudest of capturing on camera is the elusive wolverine. “Most people think of Hugh Jackman in the X-Men films, but it’s like a cross between a badger and a dragon. Nobody’s managed to get much decent footage of it before.” The team tracked one down in the Canadian province of Alberta, where in the depths of winter wolverines feed on the frozen carcasses of other animals.
Greenwood’s personal highlight was seeing a cougar for the first time. They tracked it to a ghost ranch full of the skeletons of its prey. “They are incredibly secretive, extraordinarily beautiful creatures and we managed to get very close to one – we were in a hide and it was just a few feet away. It was an extraordinary moment.”
The temperature can climb to 40°C in summer and fall to minus 40°C in winter. The camera crew had to don snowshoes or cross-country skis to reach their destination for the winter shoots. Filming an extreme skier skiing down a perilously steep gully in Colorado entailed sleeping out in tents at minus 25°C – and it wasn’t just the crew who had to be wrapped up warm. “Cameras don’t like being super-cold so you have to treat them like your own children.”
One of the most astonishing sequences was filmed at less extreme temperatures, at a rodeo in Montana where there’s a horse race called an Indian Relay. “It’s a great tradition of the Native American tribes and it’s like Mad Max does horse-racing. It’s three laps of a racecourse, but after each lap the rider jumps off and onto another horse. It’s all done bareback, they go incredibly fast, people get knocked off and it’s absolutely bonkers. I’d make it an Olympic sport because it’s more interesting than dressage!”
So why does Greenwood think people have always been drawn to mountains? “Deep within us there is a love of getting away from the humdrum, of physically testing yourself. Even if you just go for a little walk in the Yorkshire Dales, you sit down on top of a hill, look out over the landscape and it makes you feel differently about life. It’s that feeling of being somewhere very wild and very beautiful – but you’ve got to be careful up there.”
Mountain: Life at the Extreme begins on Tuesday 30 August at 9pm on BBC2
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- Look out for 'Grizzlies' in the Monashee Mountains
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- Return flights to Vancouver, returning from Calgary
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