Across our planet there are a handful of places that truly astonish: Mount Everest, the Grand Canyon and Victoria Falls for example. These natural wonders share one other thing: they pose extraordinary challenges for their inhabitants.

In a landmark series that starts on Wednesday on BBC One, stunning photography and compelling human drama combines to reveal 12 remarkable places – and discovers the stories of people fighting to survive, and even triumph, in Earth’s Natural Wonders.

Episode one, Extreme Wonders, tells the stories of the ultimate wonders of their kind, from the highest mountain to the greatest canyon, and shows how these places test their inhabitants to the limit.

On Mount Everest a team of Sherpa must rope a route through the notorious Khumbu Icefall, a glacier that will soon claim a dozen lives in a terrible disaster. In the Amazon Rainforest, two nine year-old boys must undergo a terrifying rite of passage involving hundreds of ants with the most painful stings on Earth. In the Grand Canyon conservationists desperately try to ensure the survival of one of America’s few surviving condor chicks.

In one of our planet’s biggest caves, a man’s fate hangs by a thread as he climbs for treasure 100 metres up. On the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, farmers fight pitched battles in the dead of night to save their crops from marauding elephants. And in a deep and isolated bay, fishermen and sharks form an unlikely alliance that could spell ruin – or triumph.

Each of these wondrous places has created extreme challenges for their inhabitants, and fundamentally shaped the lives of those who dare to call them ‘home’.