Where's my binoculars?
Steve, take it.
[Dog barks] It was close.
It was really close.
♪ I'm Steve Backshall, a naturalist and explorer.
♪ I think we're getting towards the end of where we can usefully use 4-wheel drives.
♪ We're in the Tian Shan Mountains of Kyrgyzstan in search of one of the world's most endangered big cats... the snow leopard.
Exactly the kind of place you expect to see some kind of mythical monster.
Steve, voice-over: We're heading deep into rugged terrain... Oh, crikey.
Are we going up there?
to find a secretive mountain ghost.
♪ Cave all the way up there.
Thinking I was gonna come face-to-face with a snow leopard.
Steve, voice-over: Across their range, these elusive cats are under threat.
Steve: This is one of the very last remaining havens for the snow leopard on our planet, but that is on a knife edge.
To protect them, we must prove these mountains are home to a breeding population.
♪ Steve, voice-over: Known locally as the mountains of heaven, the Tian Shan towers 7,000 meters into the skies.
♪ Kyrgyzstan sits at the heart of the world's snow leopard population.
From the Himalayas to Russia's Altai Mountains, snow leopards are under threat right across their range.
On this expedition, we're headed to the Djangart Valley.
Snow leopards are known to live south and north of here, but nothing is known about what lies between.
No one has studied the cats in these mountains, because these high-altitude peaks are so difficult to access.
Our expedition starts at the remote settlement of the Koshkon, once a Soviet-run mining town.
Steve: So we've been driving all day with very little sign of people, and at the end of the earth, we come to a settlement.
This remote region is packed with precious minerals.
And now mining companies have their sights firmly set on these mountains.
What a place.
And those mountains, shrouded in mist.
It really does feel like the end of the world.
[man speaking native language] And this is where it all begins.
Steve, voice-over: In an effort to protect this area, we're teaming up with Kuban Jumabaev, head of Kyrgyzstan's Snow Leopard Foundation.
Kuban: If mining is coming here, we have to show that we have good snow leopard population here.
Then we'll have the data to protect this area from mining.
Steve, voice-over: One month ago in advance of the full expedition, Kuban sent rangers to scout our route through the valley.
Kuban: Hey, Steve.
Steve, voice-over: Kuban's head ranger captured this footage at the base of the cliff we're standing on.
[bird squawking] Very, very cool.
If we can find snow leopards living and breeding here, Kuban hopes to persuade the Kyrgyzstan government to turn the Djangart Valley into a nature reserve.
♪ Steve, voice-over: To safeguard their future here, we need evidence of a large breeding population.
We need to see a mother and cubs.
Steve: So we have a number of tools at our disposal for trying to make sure we can get as much information about the snow leopard as possible.
And the number-one tool in our armory is the camera trap.
We have about 60 of them that we're gonna leave all around this area.
Steve, voice-over: Our goal is to rig remote cameras throughout these valleys and mountains and leave them running for two months.
We'll set our first trap at the cliff, where Kuban's ranger previously spotted the snow leopard.
[beeping] Woman: Where would they go?
How far down?
Halfway down that?
It's quite loose.
You can scramble down over there without using ropes.
Or we can walk around here by the looks of it.
Steve, voice-over: International mountain guide Tamsin Gay will handle ropes and safety.
We're setting down these quite steep, precarious slopes.
So we're having to be a little bit careful, particularly of the people who are working, the camera crew and so on.
Steve, voice-over: Snow leopards use cliff pathways to patrol their territory.
The cat the ranger saw is likely to return, and we need to capture it on camera.
Steve: We've clearly got a well-worn animal trail right in close to the rock face here, and it looks like-- are these scrapes?
Kuban: Yeah, yeah.
So here, right at the base of the rock, you can see the ground has been deliberately excavated.
Steve, voice-over: Snow leopards scrape the ground with their hind legs to mark their territory and find a mate.
And they have other, more pungent ways of communicating, too.
Steve: What do you have?
Kuban: Urine marking on here.
Steve: Is it fairly fresh?
It looks fresh, yeah.
And you can sniff and... Ooh.
It's quite-- it's quite heavy, heavy smell, but it's not unpleasant.
Tasmin: Are they leaving a message for other snow leopards?
[Tasmin sniffs] Go on.
Get your face right in there.
It is what they say it is.
[Laughter] Steve: So we should definitely put a camera trap here, then, yeah?
Kuban: Put this one, small.
It'll not leave and enter.
Steve: So I've never actually seen a snow leopard with my own eyes.
It's almost like the holy grail for any naturalist.
This is by far our best chance of getting data about the snow leopards here.
We set two cameras.
They're triggered by movement.
So positioning them properly is crucial.
This trap is gonna be watching this trail, and anything that walks round that corner, up this path, we're gonna see it, day or night.
♪ At night, the cameras switch to infrared, capturing all the wildlife action 24/7.
These two cameras are not our only eyes in the mountains.
One month ago, Kuban's ranger set camera traps at the entrance of the valley.
Our first job is to collect them.
♪ Steve: Ooh, what's that big bird?
♪ Look at that!
It's a lammergeier.
♪ The high mountains are the perfect location for some of the biggest of the birds of prey.
This is a lammergeier, or bearded vulture.
They're well-known as a bird that feeds on the carcasses of dead and decaying animals.
And one of their tricks is to carry the bones up high and then drop them so they shatter below, and they can get to the marrow within.
Huge bird, like a flying barn door.
♪ Whatever's died has attracted the attention of more than one bird of prey.
♪ It's a different bird.
I think it might be a griffon.
The Old World vultures, those that are found in this part of central Asia, are one of the most threatened groups of animals on the planet.
To step out of the car and see two species circling above you is an amazing sight.
And more than anything, because they are gonna be feeding on the same things as our snow leopard, an abundance of vultures means an abundance of prey species.
♪ So this is as far as our 4-by-4s can get.
We're now switching our mode of transport to this.
♪ The only way that we're gonna be able to traverse the terrain we've got ahead of us, which is some of the most rugged you could possibly imagine, is using horses.
And it's the Kyrgyz way.
[horse neighs] Steve, voice-over: To help us set all our camera traps, Kuban has assembled a team of 9 rangers and 32 horses.
Steve: Do you have a favorite horse that you like to use?
Yes, one horse called Shaitan, which means "devil."
You want to ride the devil horse.
It's not a big horse, but it wants to be first all the time.
Steve: Rather you than me.
Kuban: I like that horse.
I'm gonna take the angel horse.
[laughter] ♪ Steve, voice-over: Kuban and the rangers live and work on horseback, but this is a first for the rest of us.
I'd like to introduce you to Baizak.
We're a bit of a way from bonding yet.
[speaking native language] Brrr, brr.
Steve: It's gonna be steep, it's gonna be rocky.
It's gonna be challenging.
Logistically, it's absolutely epic... Yeah.
getting all the things we need for all different potential activities that we're going to do.
Steve: Looking around at how much gear we've got, I mean, it's a very good job we're not trying to think about doing this on foot.
It would be impossible.
Snow leopards are known as ghost cats because they're so hard to find.
To track them down, we'll need to use every weapon in our arsenal.
Camera specialist Katie Wardle is using military-grade heat-seeking technology.
It's a thermal camera and a tripod.
And we need to make sure it's balanced properly on the horse, moved safely and comfortably on our trek.
Man: 1, 2, 3.
[laughing] Sorry, horse.
[horse neighs] ♪ Steve, voice-over: Kyrgyz horses are bred to tolerate high altitudes.
And to reach the Djangart Pass, the only way is up.
♪ In any relationship with a horse, it's really critical that at the beginning, you know, you figure out who's the boss.
And in our case, there's no doubt.
[horse neighs] Our expedition has 3 different phases.
From the Djangart Pass, we drop down into the valley to retrieve our first set of cameras, an attempt to pick up the trail of snow leopards.
From there, we head into the unknown, climbing high-altitude ridges at 4,000 meters.
Finally, we'll head to the northernmost and unexplored edge of the whole range.
[horse nickers] ♪ Steve: Absolutely extraordinary.
♪ It's exactly the kind of place you expect to see some kind of mythical monster or possibly the mountains' most iconic animal.
♪ Steve, voice-over: The horses are adapted to this thin mountain air, but it will take us days to acclimatize.
So this is our col, the high pass between these two peaks.
And it's high enough that you can feel the slight breathlessness from the thinner atmosphere.
For the first time, we've got laid out below us where we're going, our destination, the Djangart Valley.
As to what the population of snow leopards is here, we know absolutely nothing.
It's never been surveyed for them before.
Snow leopards are solitary animals and have a home range of up to 400 square kilometers.
They move through their territory using the mountain ridges, but to eat, they'll follow their prey, even down into lush valleys.
Check out the icefall.
That is epic.
♪ Our new valley has a totally different character to the one we've just come from.
It feels more alpine, and it's dominated by this glacier tumbling down behind us.
♪ From here, we plan to split up into 3 different teams to cover as much terrain as possible.
As we journey into the valley, we retrieve the cameras that Kuban's rangers rigged 4 weeks ago.
♪ Pack this up to review all our footage later on and start getting an idea of what's here.
But for the moment, I'm just going this way.
After a full day in the saddle, we reach our first camp with sore legs.
You have had such a good day.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Steve, voice-over: Just above camp, the rangers take me to check out a camera trap.
They have high hopes for the footage on it.
Our team identified this... as a wolf den.
It's no longer in use.
All the footprints have faded away.
Look at that.
♪ Steve: Yeah, ohh.
As a good-sized carnivore that's gonna be competing for resources with a snow leopard, you'd think that they'd give each other a wide berth, but they will, quite happily, live alongside each other, share the same territory, share the same food sources.
Both wolves and snow leopard are hunting right here on these slopes.
♪ [calls] Steve, voice-over: A breeding wolf pack is great news, but we're eager to see which other animals might be on the camera traps we've just collected.
And let's start with this trap here.
♪ Steve and others: Ohh... Steve, voice-over: A distinctive white-clawed brown bear.
Steve: Much lighter than you expect a brown bear to be.
Steve, voice-over: At night, another brown bear checks out our trap.
[woman laughing] Steve: It's the bear selfie.
Look at that.
I love it.
♪ [Steve cheers] Yay!
[woman laughing] Oh, amazing.
Look at the size of its tail.
Steve, voice-over: Our first image of a snow leopard in the Djangart Valley... [team oohing and ahing] No.
Steve, voice-over: and a second one.
♪ It's like it's lying down, looking at the view.
♪ Steve, voice-over: From the markings on their coats, Kuban is confident we have two different snow leopards.
But this is all we've got on our camera trap so far.
Steve: The fact that you have all of these big predators living together in the same place, walking the same trails is very unusual and really special, and it makes it even more important to protect it.
This is a really good first step, but now the hard work begins.
♪ ♪ [groaning] Ice-cream headache.
Steve, voice-over: These mountains are loaded with precious minerals, and mining companies want access to the Djangart Valley.
We've already captured images of two snow leopards, but to protect the area, we need evidence of a breeding population.
♪ Tasmin: So do they just come together to mate and then...?
Mom will stay with the cubs until they are able to take care of themselves.
Steve, voice-over: This region is where Kyrgyzstan borders Kazakhstan and China.
Kuban believes it could be a crucial meeting point, where snow leopards from different populations come to meet, mate, and breed.
Steve, voice-over: Together, we plan to spread out a net of 60 camera traps throughout the Djangart range.
♪ Steve, voice-over: We're relying on the expertise of Kuban and the rangers to strategically place the camera traps where snow leopards are likely to pass by.
So what do you think, Kuban?
This looks good.
Now let's go and check it.
Steve, voice-over: Snow leopards love rocky outcrops, places where they can watch their prey without being noticed.
Steve: Oh, this is animal central.
A little alcove like this protected from the elements is gold dust for animals.
You can see they've been using this for decades.
Steve, voice-over: It's the ideal place to set a camera trap.
Steve, voice-over: These cameras are triggered by movement, so the angle has to be perfect.
Steve: I'm gonna be the snow leopard.
[chuckles] ♪ Steve, voice-over: The motion sensors can spot movement up to 30 meters away.
We start over here.
Steve, voice-over: Kuban wants to capture the snow leopard in a full-frame shot, so he can identify each one from its different markings.
Steve: Pretty good.
♪ Steve, voice-over: To gather enough data, we'll leave the cameras running for two months.
[chittering] ♪ Steve: The weather here is so changeable.
I mean, forget four seasons in one day.
You can have pretty much the whole lot while you're eating your breakfast.
Steve, voice-over: Snow leopards aren't called mountain ghosts for nothing.
To track them, you need to think like a detective and look for clues.
Bruce saw one here that looked like a cat track.
And, like, this here... Kuban: Wow.
all the toe prints are very rounded.
There's no claw marks, right, so it's not a dog.
Yeah, there's no claw marks.
♪ What do you think?
[horse nickers] Snow leopards are secretive, shy, and very good at blending into the landscape.
Our best chance of seeing one with our own eyes is to follow their prey.
[squeaks] Steve: It's critical to pay attention to what's going on in the environment around you, particularly to other wild animals.
It's a marmot.
They're extraordinarily common around here, and they're kind of like high-altitude beaver.
And the reason they're so important is that they are always vigilant.
Always an animal, like this one here, on sentry duty.
You can see it stood up.
And anytime it sees anything that could be a threat... [marmot whistles rapidly] it makes that whistle.
[whistles] And it could be us that it's whistling about, it could be a golden eagle, or it could be a predator like a snow leopard.
Or, as we've seen from our camera traps, it could be a hungry bear.
♪ So the biggest predator here is the Himalayan brown bear, and this is its work.
This would've been a marmot burrow.
And the marmot would have headed underground to safety the second it saw the predator, and you can see it's been excavated.
All the claw marks underneath here, where it's dug out the family of marmots, it looks like a bulldozer's been through here.
With bears, wolves, and snow leopard all sharing the same hunting grounds, it must mean there's abundant prey for them all to eat.
♪ Steve, voice-over: Ibex are a species of mountain goats and one of the snow leopard's favorite meals.
Steve: This is the beauty of horseback.
Quite often, animals that would run a mile if you were on foot or in a car just kind of take you as being part of the landscape.
This herd is dominated by large males.
♪ You can see their giant, scimitar-shaped horns.
Right now, some of them are play fighting, jostling, going head-to-head.
♪ When the full rut comes around, they charge at each other and bang heads with a clatter that can be heard right round the valley.
♪ These ibex are so relaxed, it's unlikely a snow leopard is nearby.
♪ But in the cliff face above them, we've spotted an intriguing-looking cave.
We're going to take a splinter group of maybe four or five of us up to that cave and check it out, put some camera traps up there.
♪ Steve: Lots and lots of hair, presumably from ibex that have been killed up here.
What do you think, Kuban?
This is from hundreds of years, no?
This is a veritable wildlife hotel.
Ooh, bear, bear scat.
♪ Steve, voice-over: It's unusual for bears and snow leopards to share the same hangouts.
Steve: And you can smell that musty, large animal smell everywhere.
So my heart is going quite fast as well because, you know, the chances of us actually coming nose-to-nose with a bear or a snow leopard are very small, but if it's gonna happen anywhere in the world, it's gonna be right here.
Just around the corner, there are more caves.
So this was their den.
So that was probably food for a snow leopard cub, one ex-marmot.
♪ Fresh snow leopard scat.
What do you think?
Steve: That's amazing.
Kuban: Yeah, it is.
Steve: Droppings, prey remnants.
Snow leopards are using this place really, really regularly.
It's the best place we've seen yet for a trap.
We rig our cameras in the hope of capturing images of a female snow leopard with cubs.
Steve: Between us, we've now set up 17 camera traps, covering the first 1/3 of the valley.
[squawks] It's not just snow leopards we want to catch on our cameras.
We want to know whether there's enough prey here to sustain a healthy population of big cats.
♪ Man: How are you?
Steve: Very good.
♪ Dusk is the witching hour for predators, and Kuban's team have spotted animals on the slopes above camp.
♪ Steve, voice-over: Spotting scopes are effective in daylight, but when night falls, we'll be relying on the SuperHawk.
This powerful thermal camera can pick out the heat signature of a warm-blooded animal from over a thousand meters away.
Camera specialist Katie Wardle will take on the night shift.
Katie: There's your horses.
That is so cool.
So do you think this is gonna help our search for snow leopard?
You know how hard it is looking into the mountains.
If you got a big white blob, we can then focus in on that, and, suddenly, you've got a snow leopard.
♪ Steve, voice-over: It's the first time Kuban and the rangers have used thermal technology to spot wildlife, and it's a game changer.
Katie: There's some up here as well.
Katie: So many.
Kuban: So many.
♪ [conversation in foreign language] ♪ Katie: Whoo!
We got fighting going on.
♪ Steve, voice-over: Our cameras are revealing these mountains are full of wildlife.
♪ [animal chittering] And at our bear cave, the camera trap has been triggered.
A new snow leopard, taking our total to 3.
It's not a mother and cubs, but to have this many in just 1/3 of this valley is massively encouraging.
With no time to waste, we're all up at first light in the freezing mountain air.
Dawn is prime hunting time for snow leopards, and we're desperate to see one with our own eyes.
♪ Katie: This cat is a ghost, and I think it would be very, very lucky to see it, let alone see it hunt.
It would be a dream if we do, though.
♪ Steve, voice-over: Kuban keeps count of the camera traps we've rigged so far.
I'm putting approximate locations of the cameras.
And this early.
We set 16 or 17 camera traps.
Steve, voice-over: The traps are key to gathering evidence, but it's already clear that this valley is a wildlife highway.
There's so much animal sign at the riverside.
Lots of ibex horn.
That one's pretty old and rotten.
They don't drop them like antlers, so that is from an animal that's died.
And lots of tracks as well.
So I've seen bear and ibex, and then running here is a wolf track, relatively fresh.
Snow leopards do hunt in the valleys, but they spend most of their time up high.
On the next phase of our expedition, we want to move to higher altitude to stalk the snow leopard in the upper reaches of its domain.
Steve: Looking at the mountains here, what do you think the likelihood is of us being able to get up on something high?
I think that we won't be looking at doing more than a thousand meters in a day, which means we're probably gonna stay below the snow line.
Maybe just some ridge lines.
Maybe it's a passage from one valley to another valley.
I know this valley is quite promising.
We can scan and then find a place.
Steve: OK, so then I think that's a plan.
That is with Misha and Tasmin helping us to get to a high ridge line or something like that and come back with the snow leopards.
Yeah, one each.
[Kuban laughs] "One each"!
♪ Steve, voice-over: To pick up fresh trail, we need to climb the mountain ridges.
♪ We're coming up to a high saddle, which is revealing some monster mountains beyond us.
♪ It's truly jaw-dropping.
♪ Good boy.
Up we go.
Up we go.
Steve, voice-over: I've searched for snow leopards many times over the past 20 years, and, finally, here it feels like we might be getting close to seeing one.
At the base of the mountain, we discover a ravine stretching up into completely uncharted terrain.
Well done, well done.
Steve, voice-over: To help us make this first ascent, we're working with local mountain guide Misha Danichkin.
Woman: Misha was thinking of going a little bit beyond and up.
Steve, voice-over: Misha has grappled with some of Kyrgyzstan's toughest peaks.
Misha: I don't think rangers can reach this place by foot.
So I hope we do it with some climbing gear.
Steve: And, yes, the exciting thing, as well, is that because there's been no climbing done here, you can pretty much guarantee we'll be the first people up there.
Leaving the base camp crew behind, we head deeper into the unknown.
We're climbing a ridge line which runs along a network of 3 gorges.
Rigging camera traps along this ridge will allow us to capture images of any leopard hunting or at least passing through this maze of gorges and canyons.
As we climb, the altitude kicks in.
[person panting] Steve: The thin air has us gasping.
♪ We've made our way up to the rock.
We're about 300 vertical meters above the rest of the team and of the base of the rock face now.
♪ ♪ Ooh!
Tasmin: There are two!
Just to prove a point, there are two ibex scampering up what seems like a vertical rock face ahead of us.
I would definitely want the rope to go up there.
Oh, no way.
There is no way he's going up that.
Just--did you see that?
So it's definitely snow leopard territory.
There's so much ibex.
I'm gonna frame up the first of our camera traps and take a chance.
Steve, voice-over: I point the camera towards a gap in the rocks.
Any animal going up or down will be forced to come through it.
That's going to be really nice.
Tasmin: Do you need your bushes trimming?
Would you mind?
Steve, voice-over: Cutting back the grass stops it triggering the motion sensors when it's windy.
Steve: That's pretty good.
Steve, voice-over: Down at basecamp, keeping an eye on our progress, Katie scans the ridge lines, hoping to spot the telltale glow of a warm-blooded animal.
♪ Steve: Ooh!
Quite big drops on either side.
♪ Oh, my gosh!
That is spectacular.
♪ I feel a bit like a snow cat now.
♪ Steve, voice-over: Climbing in uncharted territory is risky.
These rocks are unstable, and we're 3 days away from the nearest medical help.
Steve: That looks a bit sketchy to me.
Steve, voice-over: This crumbling ridge is our only option and feels like a wildlife highway.
Tasmin: The rock is really friable.
And if we slip that way, we'd all go flying down there.
And then the same on the other side.
Steve, voice-over: We rope up, and Tasmin leads the way to the next crest.
Yeah, it's clearly worthwhile putting something in.
Steve: Ay, yi yi.
♪ Tasmin: And then I'm gonna shuffle a bit further to the right.
♪ Steve, voice-over: With Tasmin safely at the top, I cautiously follow.
Steve: It's quite loose, isn't it?
[exhales loudly] [panting] You can feel the altitude, right?
Steve, voice-over: Halfway up, we hit a wall of rock, and we can't see a way around.
Steve: A slight point of caution is that it is properly dark by 8:00, and we've got to not just get down but get the horses and ride back.
We don't want to ride back in the dark.
Steve, voice-over: With only a few hours of daylight left, we need the team at basecamp.
They're following our progress with the long lens.
Steve: Tom, Tom, Tom, this is Steve.
Tom: Go ahead, Steve.
Can you see us?
We can indeed.
So, Tom, I don't know how we get to the top.
Steve, voice-over: Our best bet is for basecamp to guide us around the rock wall.
Tom: Now, Steve, if you were to go down to the right.
So you would say that we would go directly right now.
Steve: Very positive rock.
Misha: Let me know when you're safe.
♪ I'm safe.
That one's old, and that one's new.
So this is in regular use.
♪ Steve, voice-over: We picked up a snow leopard trail.
♪ Steve: That's the clearest snow leopard footprint I've ever seen.
One there, quite big, one there, quite a bit smaller.
They're going up here.
Super fresh, perfectly round.
All of the toe prints.
The snow leopard walked through here within the last 24 hours.
Steve, voice-over: This is an established route.
The snow leopard could still be in the area.
Steve: Oh, look at how clear that one is.
We're walking in snow leopard footprints all the way.
[sniffs] Can you smell that?
Tasmin: Yeah, a really strong smell.
Do you think that's a cat?
Steve: Yeah, that's the scent marking.
Really super fresh scent marking.
Steve, voice-over: We follow our noses to a small cave, a prime spot for a camera trap.
[Steve breathing heavily] We're still walking in very clear pugmarks.
♪ Cave all the way up there.
Thinking I was gonna come face-to-face with a snow leopard.
Now, that is a summit.
♪ Tasmin: Uhh, another summit.
Steve: I can honestly say, one of the sweetest summits I've ever stood on.
We're...we're way up there.
How high are we?
On the top of the world, in a place where only ibex and snow leopard have stood before.
And there are pugmarks from snow leopard leading all the way up to the summit.
Steve, voice-over: There's no question snow leopards are using this network of canyons and gorges to move from one part of their range to another, but we need proof.
We leave 5 cameras running up and along the ridges to capture footage of them.
♪ So far, we've rigged 40 cameras throughout the valley floor and along the ridge lines.
Now we're pushing into the extreme northern end of the Djangart range, the furthest point from civilization.
[beeping] Being so far from humans makes this prime snow leopard territory.
Kuban wants to cover the entire area with cameras.
♪ Steve, voice-over: The rangers rig every gully and ridge line.
♪ Steve, voice-over: The weather has changed suddenly once again, and the valley is now like a furnace.
♪ Steve: It's brutally hot.
You can feel yourself getting seared, like we're being pan fried.
Steve, voice-over: We put in super long hours to reach the far end of this river valley, where the rangers find the perfect spot for a basecamp.
Steve: Ooh, do you think you can get in here?
[Indistinct] Steve: Yeah?
[Indistinct chatter] Oh.
Yeah, I've been feeling like I got a touch of heatstroke today.
Too much time in the sun.
A dip in glacial meltwater will sort that right out.
[chuckles] Steve, voice-over: We've rigged cameras throughout the northern end of the Djangart Valley, but we still have crucial gaps to fill-- high-altitude passes, the crossing points where snow leopards enter and leave this range.
Misha: We follow up the ridge, then come into the first valley.
And from the valley, we come to the center.
Steve: That's a thousand meters of ascent.
It's a long way.
Steve, voice-over: Misha's route will take us to a mountain pass above an entirely new river valley, dividing the Djangart range from the north.
This high-mountain saddle could be an important pathway to snow leopards.
[beeping] Let's do it.
Misha: It is not very, very dangerous.
Let's go for it.
OK, guys, we're gonna go.
Katie, we're gonna need your hide and the SuperHawk.
And a minimal sleep kit?
Man: I think with the 4 tents and the BB bags, we can make it work.
Steve, voice-over: We pack as lightweight as possible for a night high up on the mountain.
Steve: Oh, crikey.
Are we going up there?
[Steve groans] ♪ Steve, voice-over: We'd be nowhere without the stamina of these Kyrgyz horses.
My horse is a superhero.
It literally got me up the steepest mountain.
♪ Steve, voice-over: After 3 hours' climbing, we set eyes on the northern valley, stretching far into the distance.
The view is utterly insane.
It goes on forever.
And we're high, plenty high enough.
The snow line's just up there.
♪ We immediately find signs that this is a well-used crossing point.
Steve, voice-over: Kuban and the rangers set the last remaining traps, completing our network of cameras over the Djangart Valley.
But there is not one of us who isn't dying to see a snow leopard with our own eyes.
Right up to the top, so we got the best view.
Steve, voice-over: And we settle in for a long night of spotting.
♪ Steve: We probably have only about 15 minutes left of natural light, and then Katie's thermal camera is gonna be the only way we can see, so she is gonna literally be our eyes.
Right now she's spotted a small herd of ibex.
I think our best plan is to keep focused on them and hope that a predator has also noticed them.
♪ Steve, voice-over: With temperatures plummeting, we set up a makeshift camp.
♪ What do you think our chances are?
[wind gusting] ♪ I'm going to sleep in my clothes apart from my boots, which go in there to keep them dry.
And with a little bit of luck, someone's gonna wake me up first thing in the morning with a shout of "Snow leopard!"
♪ Katie: I didn't really get much sleep, and then we're up at 4:00 in the morning just to start scanning again for any life out there.
Steve, voice-over: The half-light at dawn is prime hunting time for snow leopards.
♪ How you doing?
What can you see?
So we've got one single ibex just on the next mountain ridge here.
It looks a bit lonely, so it could be a good prey opportunity.
OK. Steve, voice-over: But as the day breaks, the weather worsens.
And not even the SuperHawk camera can see through clouds.
Our flurries of snow are fast becoming a blizzard.
It's gonna send us scampering back for lower ground.
We can't see anything from up here, and it could be quite risky to be exposed here in a big storm.
So for now, even from this high vantage point, our snow leopard remains elusive.
But, to me, that's part of their charm.
It's a ghost.
We know they're here.
Every single part of this vast landscape that we've explored-- and I mean every part-- has shown signs that snow leopard have been stalking, breeding, mating, having their cubs, feeding, and dominating this entire landscape, and yet... ♪ Where's my bins?
Someone get bins.
Who's got bins?
Steve, voice-over: I've spotted something cat-like on the opposite ridge.
Could this be the first snow leopard I've ever seen with my own eyes?
Steve: Where's my binoculars?
Man: Anyone have any binoc-- Steve: Come on!
Kuban: Steve, take it.
[dog barks] It was close.
It was really close.
This slope here.
Steve, voice-over: As the clouds roll in, the ghost cat may have slipped through our fingers.
♪ [growls] ♪ Katie: Uh, hang on.
Steve: Hang on.
What was that?
I've just seen something.
It didn't look like an ibex, but then the cloud moved in.
How long does it take to play back?
Oh, well done, Katie.
What is that?
The shape looks like a leopard.
Look at the way that it's held.
It's not an ibex or an argali.
Katie: It's bigger than that.
♪ Steve, voice-over: We think it's a snow leopard stalking a group of ibex.
♪ Katie: Literally, the cloud comes in.
♪ Steve: It's there for, like, a second.
It's like it's taunting us.
Katie: Yeah, it really is.
That's your one frame of it.
♪ Well, it's the best I've had in 20 years of looking for them.
♪ Steve, voice-over: To confirm our sighting, Kuban sends his rangers to check the mountain for snow leopard tracks.
So we weren't mad.
Katie's little black dot was actually a snow leopard.
Steve, voice-over: The snow leopard tracks lead up to the snow line.
And from there, who knows?
With 5 cameras left to monitor this high-mountain pass, our job is done.
The Djangart Valley is rigged and recording evidence of every snow leopard that passes.
Kuban's rangers will collect them in two months' time.
Before we leave, I want to check the footage on the two cameras that we set up on the day we arrived at the remote settlement of the Koshkon.
Anything that walks round that corner and up this path, we're gonna see it.
[both gasp] Oh!
♪ Kuban: Wow.
Oh, that's absolutely beautiful.
Oh, my goodness.
It's a gorgeou-- and it's coming right up to the camera.
Look at that!
That's so beautiful.
♪ Steve, voice-over: Our fourth snow leopard is great news, but it's not enough.
Now we can only wait to find out whether our cameras will capture the evidence we really need: proof of a breeding population.
♪ Two months later, Kuban reviews the footage, and discovers what we've all been hoping for... ♪ a snow leopard mother with two cubs.
♪ This female and her cubs could be the future of this snow leopard population.
♪ And there's more.
From our footage and sightings, we've identified 7 different individuals.
♪ This many snow leopards in such a small area is utterly extraordinary.
♪ There is no doubt that there is as strong a population of snow leopards here in these hidden, forgotten mountains as anywhere on our planet.
♪ This place is beyond compare.
We need the Kyrgyz government to know that this place could be the key to the survival of the species on into the future.
♪ [thud] Announcer: "Expedition with Steve Backshall" is available on Amazon Prime Video.