Stephen Backshall: All of that sweat, all that pain to get here and see this, that's what it's all about.
One action-packed year of exploration... Oh!
Backshall: 10 arduous expeditions...
This is so dangerous.
Backshall: and dozens of incredible discoveries...
It's a skull!
It's a human skull!
Backshall: all made possible by a world-class team of adventurers... Man: Finally, we're going to an area that I have never, never ever been before.
Backshall: and an elite crew of determined filmmakers.
Man: Put a lot of weight on with the camera and all the other bits, but we did it.
We did it.
Backshall: I'm Steve Backshall... Backshall: Moments like this are the reason that we do expeditions.
We are standing in a place that no one has ever stood before.
Backshall: and this is "Expedition Unpacked."
♪ Announcer: "Expedition Unpacked" was made possible in part by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you.
Backshall: While you might see me out front...
it takes a lot to mount these expeditions.
Camera and safety crew... Woman: OK. Steve's climbing.
Backshall: and logistics... Man: Basically the most important tent in camp because all the stuff we film, Anna's gonna put it onto these hard drives.
Backshall: All made filming 5 of our expeditions possible.
Working together, we not only ventured into the unknown, but we brought these epic journeys to your screen.
♪ [Birds chirping] In South America, we explored the largest expanse of pristine jungle on the planet.
♪ Ha ha ha!
Backshall: In this pioneering expedition, our film crew battled the toughest and more inaccessible environments on Earth... We're continually hitting obstacles like these.
Backshall: when I led an expedition deep into the heart of Suriname to navigate a river that runs through a landscape unchanged for millions of years.
Ha ha ha!
Backshall: This hostile environment... Oh!
would push us and our filming gear to breaking point.
The success of the expedition depended on our surinamese guide Ile Opodi.
He was key to unlocking our access to the jungle.
Backshall: It's an unusual, very strange, and very unique place.
Backshall: We needed permission from the Saramaccan people, who hold the forest sacred.
Without it, our filming expedition would not have stood a chance.
[Speaks foreign language] Yeah.
Backshall: The Saramaccan have fiercely protected their forests for centuries.
♪ Backshall: As a revered elder, Ile was responsible for taking us to meet the leader of his village, a 50-mile boat ride away.
♪ Ile and my longtime friend Michel Boeijen have had a lifetime of adventures together.
♪ OK, and you need to pay your respect and introduce yourself, and Ile is going to help us with that.
Backshall: The blessing of the Basia was the key to our expedition.
Next stop-- Ile's home village Duma.
Backshall: There are some negotiations going on.
We need the blessing of the local Basia.
If it doesn't work, we are stopped dead because we can't go any further than this.
Backshall: Ile had secured us a meeting with the man who would grant us permission to enter and film in their forest home.
He is the Basia.
Backshall: Our entire expedition hung on the Basia's decision.
Opodi: [Speaking foreign language] Backshall: Ile outlined our plans and passed on our promise to respect the sacred forests.
[Speaking foreign language] Boeijen: He's really thankful for our visit and to listen to what he had to say, and he wishes all the best on the trip.
Backshall: Thank you.
[Speaks foreign language] Right.
[Laughter] Backshall: Thanks to Ile, our expedition had been given the seal of approval.
Our goal was to explore a river that did not appear on any map.
We estimated it would take 6 days to paddle, and we'd drop 500 feet in elevation to reach our exit point on the main river.
It's all about to kick off.
This tiny, little helicopter behind us here is carrying us and half a ton of gear off into the middle of the forest.
To film these expeditions, you need huge amounts of equipment, but our small helicopter could only lift so much.
Producer Anna Place had the arduous task of working out what was essential for the expedition and what should be left behind.
We need to shed weight where we can, and the dehydrated food is light.
It means that we can get it in the helicopter.
Actually, I really like it.
I've only been eating it for a couple of days now, but, yeah, it's nice.
Come back when you've done 20 weeks of a year on it.
Ha ha ha!
Backshall: It wasn't just food that was being rationed.
Cameraman Graham Macfarlane had to strip down his gear to the bare essentials.
Macfarlane: That's looking good.
I mean, this works, but, obviously, not on a rapid, only on a kind of calmer stretch of river.
I think if we hit a rapid, I'll drop the sticks fast and get down low and hold the camera on my shoulder.
Backshall: When you're heading into the unknown, deciding what gear to take is tough, something Dutch adventure kayaker Michel knows well.
Boeijen: We really, really need to check, check, double-check because once we are there, there's no way back.
The heli drops us, and that's it.
Backshall: I've know Michel for 20 years.
He spent a lifetime exploring the waterways of Suriname, but for this world-first expedition, he'd identified the perfect river using satellite technology.
Finally, I'm going to an area that I have never, never ever been before.
It's gonna be a major challenge and a major adventure, so, yeah, I'm looking forward to it.
Backshall: My expedition buddy Aldo Kane... these guys need to put the harnesses back inside here.
Backshall: was in charge of logistics and safety.
Kane: We can't get to where we're going without a heli.
It would take us, honestly, months.
Backshall: Here we go.
Backshall: Our goal was an unmapped and unexplored river in the heart of the jungle.
Getting our expedition gear, pack rafts, crew, and filming equipment to the start point was no mean feat... Backshall: What do you think of that?
That is a pretty terrifying flight, isn't it?
Backshall: And, unknown to us, it had been a particularly special experience for Anna.
Oh, my gosh, it's her first flight in a helicopter ever.
Now, you had that as your first helicopter flight?
♪ There is just nothing in the world that compares to this moment, just you and the forest and everything's about to begin, and we are the first human beings ever...
ever to be here.
Mate, thank you.
Feels so good after 18 years.
Backshall: We'd made it.
Now we had to film it.
To ensure we captured every moment of the expedition, our boats were mounted with small action cameras.
♪ Backshall: There's just that incredible sense of anticipation of not knowing what's gonna be around the next corner.
Backshall: The primeval jungle, overgrown and wild, was going to test us as a team.
Backshall: We could probably get the boats over there.
Backshall: For Ile, this was business as usual.
Boeijen: Hey, hey, that's my man.
Ha ha ha!
Machetes and inflatable boats.
What could possibly go wrong?
Backshall: For two days, our progress was being measured in yards rather than miles.
Kane: We are continually hitting obstacles like these.
Backshall: At points, the water was so shallow, we could no longer paddle.
Boeijen: We make a long line of persons and bring all the boats down, and we park them here.
It's gonna be slow going, isn't it, really slow.
Backshall: The river had been shallow, but the gradient was getting steeper, and the river was gaining momentum.
♪ Oh, it's a big rock right in the middle of the river.
Backshall: I got back to the boat but was sucked into the next set of rapids.
♪ Oh, that came out of nowhere.
Backshall: My boat's mini camera caught it all.
Let the other guys know--jackets!
Backshall: Once I'd shown the team the route not to take, they took on the rapid one by one.
Backshall: Paddle, paddle!
Hard, hard, hard!
Nicely done, Anna!
Backshall: Anna and the team made it down safely and filmed it.
Backshall: Good line!
♪ Backshall: Day after day, obstacle after obstacle, the river took its toll, and the crew still had countless tasks to keep the show on the road.
Macfarlane: Guess we've only been in the jungle about a week now, and I've got two thorns in my knee, and my knee's starting to ache.
I never had that before.
I think they went in quite deep.
They're, like, these black needle thorns on these kind of palm trees.
You can't really avoid them in the forest, but otherwise, I feel great.
[Engine starts] This little tent that Anna's set up has got a little generator around the corner since she's running a lead in, basically the most important tent in camp because all the stuff we film Anna's kind of putting onto these hard drives, and also, this is where all the batteries are charged, so without this, we can't film anymore.
At any one time, I think we've got about at least 8 or 9 cameras running, and I do this every night because all of the footage is on one of those, if we were to lose one of those, then that's hours and hours of work and filming, and I have to do it while everyone else is eating, washing, playing in the river, just generally relaxing because they've all been filming all day and I've kind of just been paddling.
Backshall: Filming in the jungle is not for the feint-hearted.
My team is the machine that keeps the operation running, but they're also my friends.
♪ After paddling for 6 days, we were nearing the exit point on the main river, but from our calculations, we knew the river still had a lot of elevation to lose.
Michel and Ile estimated that over the entire trip, we'd only dropped 200 feet.
Backshall: What we saw was every explorer's dream.
Backshall: This is absolutely immense.
Backshall: None of us ever expected the missing feet of elevation to come all at once.
♪ Boeijen: This is a waterfall that is not mapped, Steve.
Backshall: I don't believe this.
This is completely new.
Backshall: To see the river dropping off the face of the Earth was a moment I'll never forget.
All of that sweat, all that hard work, all of the pain to get here and see this, that's what it's all about, isn't it?
Do we have a name, a name that we can give the falls?
[Speaks foreign language] What does that mean?
Boeijen: The biggest.
The biggest, the biggest falls.
Backshall: Our world-first discovery was only possible because of Ile.
Backshall: The falls cascaded over 650 feet in length and were 260 feet high.
All the more impressive, they had never appeared on any map.
♪ Our record of this momentous discovery, Suriname's second highest waterfall, was due to the strength and perseverance of the film crew... ♪ And those qualities were never needed more than when we all journeyed to Oman and faced a challenge of epic proportions.
Backshall: For me, looking at that, it puts my heart in my boots.
Backshall: We scaled an unclimbed cliff face 1,300 feet high... Ohh!
Backshall: while searching for the Arabian leopard.
Backshall: Oh, it's absolutely beautiful.
Backshall: Climbing is always full of risks, but when you mix filming with climbing... ♪ the stakes are even higher.
This is so dangerous.
Our journey took us up the imposing cliff of southern Oman's Jebel Samhan Escarpment.
No one had ever attempted to climb it, and for good reason.
The rock was flaky and unstable... oh, sh-- big rock coming down.
Big rock coming down.
Backshall: but it was.
A challenge we took on... this is the first load of water, so we've got 3 of these to go up.
Take them when ready.
Backshall: As climbing and filming crew worked as one.
[Rocks tumbling] Backshall: I'd assembled a dream team of expert climbers to help us scale the formidable rock face.
Woman: What do you see now?
Man: Just a little bit of bad rock, so watch us.
Backshall: Hazel Findlay is one of the world's best big-wall climbers, and alongside her was veteran adventure climber John Arran.
Arran: That's gonna be a lot of fun.
Backshall: Their Herculean task was not just to climb, but also to keep me and our film crew alive.
[Beep] To help document every stretch and handhold of this incredible climb, we had small cameras on jointed arms attached to us... Tt's all right.
It was just this thing.
Backshall: but it was specialist climbing cameraman Keith Partridge who would really have to bring our adventure to life on the screen.
So Keith's free-hanging now, but spinning as he's going.
What'd you do for the shot, Keith?
Backshall: I'm a competent climber with years of experience, but this had me worried.
Backshall: I mean, looking at it close, it's very exciting from a climber's perspective, and for John and Hazel, who do this for a living, you know, this is gold dust, but for me, looking at that, it puts my heart in my boots.
Backshall: It was time to climb, and Hazel was making her last-minute checks.
Backshall: So what do you think?
How does it look?
Findlay: Like always, as you get closer, you see that the rock is a bit more fragile than we thought, probably, so gonna have to be careful to make sure no one is hanging out of the base, and obviously, as a climber, we need to be careful, as well, not to pull something or break something and then have that cause us to fall.
Backshall: Rock fall is always an issue, but this was something else.
Findlay: The rock's basically made of cheese.
Like, there's gonna be continuous rock coming down.
OK. Just make sure no one's underneath, eh?
Backshall: Cameraman Keith was gonna be hanging below the others and looking up, and he was right in the firing line.
Kane: I'm just confirmed if K.P.
Gets on the ropes now, you're happy with where they're rigged at the top, coming over the top there, yeah?
Partridge: They're both in place and ready to go.
's on the ropes, guys.
Backshall: Aldo was in overall charge of safety.
He needed to keep a close eye on Keith.
[Rocks tumbling] Right.
That one hit me on the head, bang on.
Backshall: A fist-sized rock falling from height could have smashed straight through our helmets.
What do you think, K.P.?
Backshall: If you feel it's dangerous, then for sure don't even think about it.
Kane: John, is it all looking good up there?
Arran: Everything good to go.
♪ Findlay: OK, John.
That is just ridiculous.
Kane: Keith's round about the same height now as Steve.
Rest of the crew are there.
That's a little cave, and that's the only safe place where they can be out of the rock fall that's been.
All day, it's been rock... Findlay: Rock!
But, yeah, today's been pretty stressful.
Backshall: Every move we made was creating problems down below.
Backshall: [Panting] ♪ Oh!
[Rock tumbles] Ooh, this is genuinely frightening stuff.
Backshall: There was a reason I'd worked with Keith for years.
On a rope, he always kept his cool and got the shot.
Partridge: Probably dramatic down there, wasn't it?
Felt pretty dramatic to me.
Ha ha ha!
When that hold pinged off for your foot, I thought you were out of there.
You did well to hang it.
What shot were you on, K.P.?
Full body length... oh, amazing.
So you see the whole thing go, and a bit stays below you, so, yeah, it's pretty cool in a nasty kind of way.
Ha ha ha!
Backshall: Technically, we planned for everything the desert rock could have in store for us, but nature has a way of throwing you a curveball.
Man: You see that?
That's the cliff, and that's an incredible cloud bank that is creeping ever towards us.
Backshall: The sudden influx of mist dampened our equipment and our ability to pick out a safe route on the rock.
Backshall: So from here on in, we're kind of climbing blind.
Obviously, we can't see anything above us or off to either side, so it's just a case of just kind of ferreting forward and seeing what happens.
Backshall: Far below us, the base camp crew was facing its own challenges.
To coordinate the shoot, producer Briony Jones was forced to rely on radio communications alone.
Bit worrying being in base camp when they're all up there.
It's a really, really foggy day.
I cannot see the wall at all, so I have no idea how they're getting on other than little bits I hear through the radio.
Just hoping they're all OK. Backshall: The mist made filming an impossible task for drone operator and sound recordist Parker Brown.
It's already gone.
It's quite hard to make film about climbing when you're...
Covered in clouds and can't see anything.
In the clouds.
You can't see.
Parker's a sound man, but he's not with anybody, so he's doing sound from about 500 meters away, and he also flies the drone for us, except the drone can't see anything, so basically, he's useless at the moment.
Ha ha ha!
♪ Backshall: In the morning, the mist had lifted and so had our spirits.
We were all back in business.
OK. Good luck, mate.
Thank you very much, old bean.
♪ Oh, shoot.
You all right, mate?
Hang on in there.
Well done, that, man.
Backshall: With the toughest challenges behind us, we pushed on to the top.
I can see you!
Thank you, John.
No worries, Steve.
Thank you so much.
Thank you for keeping me safe.
Another fine adventure you got me into.
Brown: Steve got up, and he was just effervescent, he was so happy and just thrilled, and these are all his ideas and his dreams, and to see anybody basically see their dream come true for them is super special, so I was super happy to be here for it.
Ha ha ha!
Backshall: To reach our goal, it had taken grit, determination, and team members that trusted each other with their lives.
Covering every angle while dangling from a rope was a elated but relieved cameraman Keith.
Nice to be up, eh?
We did it.
We did it.
I can't imagine that.
Backshall: Filming each and every world-first expedition presented us with different physical and technical challenges.
Overcoming them, the crew had to think laterally and put their faith in one another.
♪ In the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, we took on a raging whitewater river.
Backshall: To film this world-first, the cameraman had to do more than think laterally.
To stay upright, he had to think and paddle backwards.
Man: There've been a few near-misses for me.
Kayaking backwards down a completely unrun river is something that I never thought I would do.
Backshall: You're about to get hit again.
Backshall: We were paddling through a steep-sided rock gorge that had never been explored.
Oh, you beauty!
Backshall: I knew it could stress us all to breaking point.
Backshall: I've been lucky enough to be on first descents all over the planet, but there's no doubt that this one is the one that scares me the most.
Backshall: Keeping the film crew's heads above water was an incredible team of whitewater kayakers-- Darren Clarkson-King, our lead kayaker; safety kayaker Sal Montgomery... Keep going, guys.
Backshall: and Bhutanese pro Chencho Drukpa.
♪ Together, we set out to document our first descent of Bhutan's only unexplored whitewater river.
♪ To record all the action, our kayaks and helmets were rigged with mini cameras, but the ace in our pack was champion kayaker and cameraman James Bebbington.
The journey was rarely without incident and drama for him to capture.
Get out of your boat!
I'm in big trouble.
He's over there.
Backshall: Before we got our feet wet, we wanted to scout the river, and for that, we needed a vantage point.
So far, all of our work has been done using satellite imagery, so we need to get close to have any idea if this is even possible.
Here it is.
Look at that.
That is absolutely incredible.
Backshall: Our safety plan and our lives depended on assessing the whitewater with a drone.
♪ Cameraman Graham Macfarlane was at the controls.
Tell me when to go, guys.
So from this vantage point, we can see a certain amount with the binoculars, but really our plan "A" is to fly the drone out and down close to the water to get a better idea of what the rapids are like.
Backshall: Graham flew a mile in each direction to give us a sense of the hazards we would face.
There's a very obvious line pretty much down the middle, isn't there?
Backshall: Graham's drone showed us a challenging, rocky river but one that should have been within our limits.
Nice work, everyone.
Thank goodness for modern technology.
♪ Backshall: Filming on and in the water was James' forte.
He had his work cut out for him.
Bebbington: I'll have a small camera that I'll be filming with and my own head cam that I'll be trying to get as close in as possible to Steve and the other guys to show what it's like to be in the midst of this stuff as an actual kayaker.
Backshall: You wouldn't be human if right now, you weren't nervous.
We've scouted a tiny, tiny portion of this river, and it looks big.
Backshall: Taking on Bhutan's last unrun river was exciting and terrifying in equal measure.
♪ Backshall: OK, so what's our war cry?
Lha gyal lo!
Lha gyal lo!
Backshall: We'd planned to have the kayak team followed by rafts carrying Aldo, other members of the film crew, and our expedition gear, but the drone recce showed that was a nonstarter.
There was simply no way large rafts would survive the first section.
Kane: So they're gonna crack on down the river.
We're going to try and leapfrog them and get in at the first big, sort of dangerous set of rapids, which is the entrance, really, into the main gorge.
Backshall: Day one, and we were already on our own.
Backshall: Without the crew boat, capturing this world-first descent was now entirely on James' shoulders.
So I'm basically looking at where Steve's looking to choose where I'm gonna sort of roughly guide the boat, which, let's say, 30% of the time works out in a really nice shot and the other 70% of the time ends up in us getting an absolute hammering.
Backshall: You're about to get hit, mate.
Uh, hats off.
Backshall: It was one thing to run Himalayan whitewater facing forwards, but doing it backwards took a whole other level of skill and courage.
Kayaking backwards down a completely unrun river is something that I never thought I would do.
You'll hit again.
Backshall: Whichever way you were facing, the Chamkhar Chhu river was doing its best to make life difficult for us.
Backshall: This has been one of the hardest days I've ever had, just never stops, and just when I think I've got my game face back on again, something else hits me.
Backshall: As we fired down the gorge, the river had doubled in volume, and we faced monster rapids.
It's one of those horrible, nerve-racking moments when you see world champion James and ridiculously experienced Himalayan descent artist Darren looking at a rapid and saying, "Oh..." that makes me nervous.
Backshall: Through these rapids, where all our focus was needed on the paddling, we had to rely on our mini cams for the filming.
Little did I know it, but they were about to capture the longest and most terrifying 5 minutes of my entire life.
Montgomery: Yip yip yip!
Backshall: [Shouts] Oh, no.
Whoop whoop whoop whoop!
Backshall: When I dropped down, my kayak cameras had been ripped off by the force of the water.
Montgomery: Come on.
Come on, Steve.
Backshall: With all attention on helping me, no one was filming.
Try and get it!
Try and get it!
Backshall: The fixed cameras on Sal's kayak saved the film... ♪ but it was Sal who had just saved my life.
♪ Oh... Backshall: I am very, very lucky to be here.
If Sal hadn't chucked me that rope, I don't think I'd have made it.
♪ Backshall: When I'd my close call in the whirlpool, James had been further back above the rapids.
Bebbington: Do I keep filming?
Do I paddle down to try and help?
And obviously, I'm here as a cameraman primarily, but I am here as safety, too, so if stuff really does go wrong, filming always comes second.
Backshall: James and local kayaker Chencho were now cut off from the rest of us.
Bebbington: Wait, Chencho.
I'll need your hand to take that there.
But I think he might have pulled out or something.
Bebbington: This is, I guess, one of the things that happens when you tackle a first descent such as this.
You just don't quite know what's around the corner, and sometimes issues like this are a little unavoidable.
At least Steve's safe.
We're all safe, and that's all that matters.
Backshall: Separated, James and Chencho took the tough decision to hike up and out of the gorge to avoid the dangerous rapids.
It's a pretty steep cliff, really, but with boats, this is a real challenge.
Backshall: The expedition seemed to be unraveling Bebbington: It's about an hour till darkness, so we've taken everything we can with us.
We're just putting the kayaks here, tying them to the tree.
Wish us luck.
Backshall: Their calls fell on deaf ears.
No one around.
Backshall: We were too far downstream to hear them... Oh...hwaah!
Backshall: But Chencho knew making lots of noise had another benefit.
Drukpa: We are trying to frighten the animals-- bears, leopards, jackals, fox, and any animals who can harm us so easily in the nighttime.
Backshall: James and Chencho's instincts had paid off.
Are you OK?
Backshall: After a two-hour hike, we were all reunited.
Bebbington: You OK, Steve?
So good to see you.
♪ Backshall: So had a pretty lousy night, mostly lying awake contemplating how close I came to dying yesterday.
I've had a lot of time over the night to think about what happens next.
This is such a great opportunity, and it is a once- in-a-lifetime thing.
I'm gonna get down there.
I'm gonna hit that first whitewater rapid and see how I feel.
Backshall: We still had 17 miles to paddle to make it through the gorge and a film to make.
♪ Clarkson-king: Up, up, up!
That's what I needed.
Backshall: As we made great progress in the kayaks, the raft team was playing catch-up far behind us.
Their heavy rafts were loaded with film gear and supplies.
Kane: We're stuck now on a rock, and we're filling up with water, guys.
Backshall: To free it from the rock, they had to lighten the load.
Kane: Graham, Graham, give me that pull line.
Pull that in.
Backshall: Sound recordist Nick Allinson was the first to go.
Nick, pay attention.
I'm in, then?
Hold on here, both hands.
Get in the water.
Then you're going across hand to hand all the way in.
Face that way, feet up.
♪ All right.
Coming in, coming in.
Whoo hoo hoo!
Backshall: After 10 solid minutes underwater, the gear had taken a soaking, but the team had to carry on and catch up.
In the kayaks, we'd done it.
We conquered Bhutan's last unrun river.
Montgomery: Ha ha!
Let's get a big, old hug in.
I'm really proud of you.
Thank you, James.
Oh, ha ha!
Lha gyal lo!
Lha gyal lo!
Whoo hoo hoo!
Backshall: That remote river had lain unrun for a reason.
It had been a force to be reckoned with.
Against all the odds, we pulled off the filming expedition, just.
This ended up being a completely different expedition to what we expected.
In the course of the few days that we were on Chamkhar Chhu, we ran at least 50 rapids that no one had ever been down before.
We went into a gorge that, arguably, no human being's ever been into before.
I came the closest to death that I ever had done.
I made some incredible friends.
Lha gyal lo!
Lha gyal lo!
Backshall: I feel like this has been one of, if not the, greatest expedition I've ever done.
All of the best expeditions rely on facing your fears and overcoming them.
The water in Bhutan was challenging, but in Mexico, I took on a nightmarish mix of water and claustrophobia.
It's all right.
Get in there.
It's probably the thing I'm most frightened of in the whole world.
Backshall: We were there to film under the Yucatan Peninsula in the subterranean spirit world of the ancient Maya.
It's a skull!
It's a human skull!
Backshall: I wanted to explore further and deeper than this ancient culture or anyone else had ever been before.
Man: We are the center of the Earth, the outer layer.
Backshall: This wasn't a mission I could achieve on my own.
I needed another world-class team around me.
Woman: If you're not back by 6 a.m., we're coming in.
♪ Backshall: This expedition took us underneath the jungle to a hidden and often flooded realm that held great significance for the Maya people centuries ago.
It's so rare in the Yucatan to be up this high.
Almost the entire peninsula is completely flat, beyond the realms of the village--forest, just thick, dense forest, and underneath that is a peppered latticework of caves, almost none of which have ever been explored.
♪ Our goal is to explore this underground network of caves and unlock the mysteries they were holding.
♪ It took a multiskilled team behind the camera.
Some of our target caves were vast and dry... many people come down here, Memo?
No, not a lot.
These are the handprints of a Mayan child left over a thousand years ago.
These Mayan had been children that were sacrificed afterwards.
It was part of a ritual.
Backshall: while other caves were impossibly confined and choked with water.
The air here is not good, definitely not.
♪ It was an expedition fraught with danger made worse by the complications of filming.
You OK, Katy?
I'm all good.
Backshall: Katy Fraser is a cave-diving camera and lighting pro.
When she joined our team, she'd already clocked up hundreds of hours of experience filming in caves.
Fraser: When you go into a cave for the first time to light it, it's obviously very difficult because I have to be able to create these dynamic, moving shots that are continuously well-lit.
Backshall: A key member of any film crew is the person with local knowledge.
In archeologist Memo De Anda, we'd found the Indiana Jones of Maya artifacts and culture.
De Anda: This is the sacred entrance for the ancient Maya.
So this is where we're going, down here?
This is where we're going today.
Should we get the lid off this thing?
Backshall: Memo took us to a secret Maya burial site in a cavern in the jungle.
Only a handful of people had ever been granted access.
Backshall: A disused well shaft was the only way in.
Kane: What's that, about 15, 20 meters down?
De Anda: Yeah.
It's about 15 meters to the water.
Kane: We're in the middle of the countryside here.
The heat is pretty bad, and then you've got diving operations going on.
You've got rope operations going on.
We're quite a few hours away from any medical help or any hospitals.
There's probably quite a lot that could go wrong.
Backshall: Before we could explore the cave, we had to wait for the crew to rig their gear.
It gave me plenty of time to contemplate.
Backshall: Effectively, we're going into a sunken mausoleum.
It is the kind of stuff that wakes you up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, what we're about to see.
It is the stuff of nightmares.
♪ Backshall: But there was nothing cold about our sweat at the top of the well shaft.
It was midday, and the heat was overwhelming.
Kane: Has everyone been drinking water?
Backshall: Prepping to film complex dive shoots is painstaking... that look about right to you?
Backshall: And always takes longer than expected.
Kane: Those marked fins are going to be you.
Me, my fins, my tank.
Backshall: As hard as it was to believe, the water in the cave was gonna be significantly colder than the surface.
It's 35 degrees, 90% humidity, and I'm getting dressed up in a rubber suit.
Lean out a bit further and try and get out past the edge.
Backshall: Katy, with her camera and lights, was the first down.
OK. Katy, if you just sit down into it and step back a bit... Backshall: Lighting a cave for filming is a time-consuming but crucial job.
Kane: Guys, can you make sure you're all drinking?
Backshall: Waiting above ground, overheating was a real danger.
Can you put some water on him, Aldo Phht!
Backshall: After 30 minutes, I was suffering from serious heat stress.
[Birds chirping] Kane: Once we start lowering that out, not gonna be able to lift you up as such.
Backshall: Is it easier if I stand up?
Ahh... Kane: It'll be easier for you.
Backshall: The situation was getting serious and worried our director James Brickell.
What's happened is, we've got our two camera-- our cameraperson and main safety diver, our two first divers, have gone down, and they've taken a little bit longer than we thought they might setting up.
♪ Kane: Guys, clear the hole.
In that time, Steve's up here getting pretty dehydrated.
Kane: OK. Can, Steve.
OK. Let me know when it's too uncomfortable.
Brickell: Steve and I have worked together for years.
I always just know when he's not great, and he doesn't look great now.
I asked him if he's OK, and he went, "So-so."
The sooner we can get him down there, the better, really, but we've got to wait till the divers down below are ready.
Kane: OK, Steve.
We're gonna lower on the working lines.
Send it down.
If you will... Oh, wow.
That's absolutely incredible.
Kane: Diver on the bottom?
Backshall: The cooling, 75-degree water rolled my body temperature back to normal.
♪ This place blows your mind.
De Anda: It's such a powerful place.
Backshall: Memo and I could, at last, explore the macabre secrets of the cave.
Memo, what's that?
♪ Oh, where is it?
It's a skull!
It's a human skull!
It looks like it's screaming.
This is like something out of a horror movie.
♪ There's something very unsettling about the sight of a human skull.
There are bones everywhere.
What have you got?
De Anda: It's a complete body.
I have seen evidence of cut marks, very deep.
That tells me that a knife got in that body very skillfully, rip apart the heart.
Sometimes this happened when the victim was still alive.
They ripped out their hearts, and they were still alive?
Backshall: Katy's lights had been worth the wait.
They'd revealed the scale of this Maya underworld.
Backshall: Everywhere you look, there's another body, another skull.
There are women, grown men, and children.
This place has so many stories to tell, so many secrets, so many mysteries.
♪ What a place.
That was a proper journey into the underworld, spook central.
Backshall: Pulling off an underwater shoot deep under the jungle of Yucatan had taken a special kind of camera crew, one with unique technical skills and mental stamina.
On top of the world in Greenland's frozen Arctic, a different crew needed physical stamina and determination... Oh, amazing.
Backshall: to record our first ascent of an unclimbed mountain... Woman: Fresh avalanche there on our right.
Backshall: through icy rivers... just don't fall over now, Backshall.
Backshall: into sinking sand... Uh-oh!
Backshall: over a mighty glacier...
It's bloody hard work, isn't it?
Backshall: and precarious rock.
Backshall: You think, "What happens if that rock comes off?"
And the answer is always something bad.
Backshall: This mountain was hard enough just as a climb, but as a climb to be filmed, we were pushing our luck.
You OK, Steve?
[Helicopter whirring] Backshall: Our expedition took us to a remote and uninhabited mountain range in Greenland... That is stunning.
Backshall: with a team of Arctic explorers and specialist climbing camera crew.
Woman: Could we not go a little bit higher just so we can look down on them?
Chrissy, can we go a little bit higher?
Backshall: We were attempting to summit an unclimbed peak in the Stauning Alps.
Backshall: The route up looks incredible.
Backshall: Joining me on this expedition were two world-class mountaineers-- The idea of doing something where nobody's ever set foot before is utterly thrilling.
Backshall: Libby Peter and Tamsin Gay.
Kane: We have two of probably the best guides in the industry there that can help us up, and they are bombproof.
Backshall: Our first challenge was crossing a shallow but vast meltwater river.
Completely preposterously, we're standing in our pants in the middle of Greenland.
Ha ha ha!
Backshall: For cameraman Keith, the stakes were high.
If he'd let his film kit get wet, the shoot would have been over before it had really begun.
We got quite a lot of kit to carry across here.
The problem is, though, we don't really want to get this puppy wet.
Backshall: Keith is a climbing expert and a mountaineering legend.
His optimism and good humor were always limitless.
Partridge: So ultimately, if it goes up to my waist, I'm gonna have to stick this in here, and the whole backpack here has got delicate stuff in it, as well, electronics, so that's gonna have to go in a river bag, and I've also then got a camera in one hand and my boots in the other, so I need to be an octopus-- ha ha--but you got to laugh about it.
It's hilarious, really.
Backshall: We knew it had to be done, so we did it quickly.
Peter: Get out of my tummy button.
That's definitely-- That's right up to where no man ever wants cold water.
I'm getting up.
Peter: All right.
Let's just get it over with.
OK, back in shallow water.
Backshall: We were through the meltwater and back on firmer ground.
♪ The river crossing had been a good team-bonding exercise.
It was time now for us to get to work.
Challenge number two was to reach and cross a large glacier that would lead us to the base of the mountain.
♪ Backshall: You have a camera crew who record a real expedition, and they are coming with you, doing everything that you do, and not slowing you down, and that's the big benefit of this team.
Everyone's really strong.
Everyone knows what they're doing.
They're making it happen.
Let's see if I can even move this thing.
We have a vertical kilometer of ascent to do before we can even think about making a base camp, just put our backs into it and get stuck in.
Backshall: We were pulling sledges known as pulks many times our own body weight.
It was a slow and back-breaking journey... Kane: Snow is so slushy.
Backshall: but on an expedition... Keep going, John, just a little bit more.
Backshall: there is no "I" in "team."
Peter: It's just this friction underfoot that's the problem.
It's bloody hard work, isn't it?
Backshall: As the day's getting warmer, the snow's getting heavier and slidier.
We just hit our steepest patch, and the film crew are really struggling to get up with all the equipment.
Could you help me up, please?
That was a good bit of craft, wasn't it?
Backshall: Yeah, but we're up.
Backshall: We finally made it onto the glacier, capturing these first images of the vast river of compacted ice that fell as snow thousands of years ago.
♪ Backshall: We're just now starting to come for the first time into view of the mountain, classic triangular shape.
The summit just screams out, wanting to be climbed.
Backshall: Crossing the glacier and setting up a base camp meant we could recharge before the big push up the mountain.
We are in remotest Greenland, one of the remotest mountain ranges on the planet.
I am beyond excited because we're having a little spa, so Stevie B.
Is boiling water.
We're gonna wash our hair in the pulk.
I'm currently melting snow so that she can wash her hair on a glacier.
Backshall: While the crew opted for relative luxury, I thought I'd give an icy plunge a try.
So this was all ice about 20 minutes ago.
Ooh, that's so painful.
Oh, that is so painful, oh, but I'm clean.
♪ Backshall: We'd reached the base of the mountain, but the real work was only just beginning.
We split the team, with director Rosie in charge at base camp.
5 of us attempted the summit.
Cameraman Keith would have to capture the action alone.
The end of the film now rested on his shoulders.
Kane: How you feeling?
I'm feeling all right, actually, although I think that once we get moving with that sack of doom on my back, it's gonna feel like hard work, actually, full-of-camera-kit rucksack.
Backshall: An Arctic summer means perpetual daylight.
We took advantage of that, climbing all day and all night.
Kane: If you felt it was hard climbing, you should try climbing and filming people climbing.
Peter: Yeah, very hard work.
Partridge: You just have to concentrate all the time.
Every footfall, every foot placement, every handhold has to be perfect.
You can't just reach up to what you think is, like, the best handhold ever because you just pull it straight off.
Kane: All right, Steve.
You best get a hold of that rope between you now.
Backshall: There's a kind of stress that you really only ever go through mountaineering where you are consistently for long periods of time, for hours and hours, just fearful for your life, and it grinds away at you.
Gay: Even looking for things that we can place in the rock to protect ourselves with is real difficult.
There's not a lot of things that are solid, so that is quite tricky.
Backshall: Some sections of the climb were worse than others.
On these, we were not so much going up as across.
Gay: Potentially, the struggle up there got quite a lot of sort of weaving to do between these rock towers.
Backshall: For the first time, I started to doubt whether we could actually make it to the top.
Backshall: It just keeps getting worse and worse.
Backshall: Back at base camp, our slow progress was also starting to worry Rosie.
They started climbing at 7:00, so they've been up there for 5 1/2 hours now, and the first bit was really, really tough going.
You see why no one's climbed this mountain before.
♪ Backshall: As we battled on, we were completely reliant on Tamsin's mountaineering experience to get us to the top and Keith's extreme camera work to capture it all.
Gay: When you got through that section there, Aldo, both loose on either side like everything else.
I'm underneath you.
Backshall: With every precarious move I made, Keith was following with his camera, watching his own footing while filming mine.
Backshall: You look down at where you're about to put your foot, and you think, "What happens if that rock comes off?"
And the answer is always something bad, and so you are continually forcing yourself to think of the consequences.
Partridge: You just-- it just crumbles underneath you.
I mean, it's pretty exhausting.
You cannot trust anything.
I'm in danger of knocking something big down.
[Rocks tumbling] There you go.
Backshall: Eventually, I made it up to Tamsin's precarious position despite the mountain throwing everything it had at us.
Backshall: Nearly there, folks.
Backshall: Thanks to my amazing team, we made it to the top.
Gay: Not bad, eh?
What a perfect summit.
Kane: It's beautiful, isn't it?
Partridge: An incredible landscape.
You do feel very emotional, actually, I think, because you've worked so hard to get yourself up here.
Well, the team, everybody worked so hard to get up here.
♪ Backshall: Keith was the first person in the world to capture the incredible views on camera.
Partridge: When you look around, you know, there is no sign of human interference for as far as you can see.
It's a real joy, actually, to be up here.
♪ Backshall: Our year was filled with unforgettable and life-changing expeditions.
Yeah, you beauty!
Backshall: Reaching each and every goal was incredible...
Thank you, John.
Backshall: but what will stay with me forever are the memories of journeys made with a group of people who shared my passion for adventure... Ha ha ha!
Backshall: the very best film crews in the world.
"Expedition Unpacked" is available on Amazon Prime Video.