Living with Marmots at 13,000 Feet

Posted by Alex Lanchester on
Marmots in the Himalaya.
BBC
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author. 

Members of the squirrel family, marmots are mountain specialists, feeding on grasses lichens and seeds. To film Himalayan marmots we traveled to the edge of the Tibetan plateau in the province of Ladakh, Northern India. We were filming a marmot group that lived well over 13,000 feet, which made for challenging filming conditions.

Everything takes longer at this extreme altitude, even the mundane daily chores. Night time temperatures sinks to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and often we would wake up to find snow on the ground. After extracting ourselves from beneath the layers of sleeping bags and blankets we then had to allow extra time for dressing in all the extra layers needed for the extreme conditions outside. Surprisingly even the very simple act of boiling an egg for breakfast was effected by the altitude. Water boils at a lower temperature at high altitude, due to the decrease in air pressure, so it took over twenty minutes to cook an egg.

Everything takes longer at this extreme altitude, even the mundane daily chores.

We then had to hike with our equipment up to the filming location. Another consequence of the low air pressure at this altitude is that there is less oxygen in each breath, almost half that of sea level, which means during any physical activity we were quickly out of breath and needed a rest. Any travelling would take two or three times as long as it does at sea level. And this was all before filming began!

Although we felt time was slipping through our fingers it was nothing compared to the problems the marmots were facing. Summers at this altitude are extremely short, just 3 months long, and in this short amount of time the young marmots must triple their body weight by eating only grass, readying themselves for an 8 month hibernation. So as challenging as it was for the crew, the clock was really ticking for the marmots.

— Alex Lanchester, Producer

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