Last weekend, Sheffield climber, writer, photographer and filmmaker Ben Winston (39) collapsed while camping alone at Lawrencefield, one of his favourite spots. Despite help from Edale Mountain Rescue and the ambulance service, he did not survive.
If you read the outdoor mags or have ever watched our videos on Facebook, you'll probably have seen Ben's work. His talented output covered everything from Trail articles to Rab photoshoots (including that huge photo of Hoy fixed above the Outside shop in Hathersage); filming Dave MacLeod in Patagonia to producing brilliant short films for BMC TV.
There was something about Ben. Even his hair was charismatic. I first met him at Kandersteg ice climbing festival. Glowing with enthusiasm, he told me he was heading off to rough it in a shelter and ice climb he didn't know where - they'd make it up - with Ally Swinton afterwards. When Ally offered him a nice warm bed in Chamonix instead, he was quite disappointed.
Ben liked to live wild. He was passionate about real adventures. Talented and modest, funny and philosophical, he was great at telling stories about these adventures - something that came across in his work, too - but he also had a knack for sparking you into enthusiastic conversation.
Having a young daughter made Ben increasingly engaged in "the opportunities we will bequeath - or take from - our children." His car ran on post-consumer waste biodiesel. He used public transport wherever possible and all flights were offset with the award-winning www.pureleapfrog.com.
While many people talk about climate change, maybe even repost a meme or two on Facebook, Ben was increasingly out there on the front line. Read his recent powerful blog post about protesting in the Rhineland and shutting down a coalmine here.
"I’m running and I’m running and I’m just one, just one amongst hundreds of people running to escape the batons and the pepper spray, running to break through the police line and run on and on across the field to the mine. But as we’re running and my legs are pumping and the adrenaline’s thumping I turn and see something that makes my blood turn cold and time stand still. I see a man made massive with body armour and a helmet and a baton, and I see him throw his shoulder back and form a fist and smash the full brutal weight of his aggression into the face of an oncoming woman. She crumples but I don’t even see her hit the floor because I’m running and oh fuck me am I running and I’m thinking that this isn’t what I signed up for and I don’t want to be here and christ I’m just so scared. Because I am not an activist. This isn’t what I do. I’m a relatively normal, middle aged chap who does clicktivism when he can find the time. Direct action is not my thing. I’m not cut out to be here, running with hundreds of people across the fields of the Rhineland to try and close for one day a sodding great lignite mine.
And yet, oddly, here I am.
I am running because I don’t know what else to do. I am running because I know too much to stand still. I am running because climate change has already begun and because I’m scared of heatwaves and droughts and mass extinctions and flooding. I’m running because I need to act – we all need to act – and we need to act right now."
- Ben Winston
What a man. What a loss. Our thoughts are with Ben's wife, Emma, and daughter, Lila, as well as with his many friends.
Below, some of the many people that he worked and climbed with pay tribute to the wild man behind the lens.
Shane Ohly, Ourea Events
We first met in the Broadfield Pub in Sheffield. Even among Sheffield's finest scruffy climbers, Ben's long curly hair and unkept style were striking. I was never sure if none, or plenty of effort went into maintaining this look! We shared a beer and quickly became engrossed in a deep conversation about climbing.
Ben was so passionate about climbing. That was 15 years ago and since then we have shared plenty of adventures and worked together closely. First at planetFear, where Ben became one of our regular contributors with his stunning images and beautifully crafted words, and in recent years, for various outdoor publications, with Ben documenting the various running events I now organise.
I was lucky enough to talk with Ben just the day before he died. We laughed about our most recent magazine trip to Knoydart where we'd had three wonderful days enjoying the best and worst of the Scottish weather. Ben's sudden and unexpected death is a great loss to the outdoor community and his friends and family.
WATCH: iWalk, a film by Ben Winston on BMC TV:
Alex Messenger, BMC TV
He was a true master of the phone message. My phone would ring at a strange time of day and I'd ignore it, like I often do, and pick up the message later. It would be Ben, high on the Cuillin Ridge or stuck on the side of a Lakeland hill in the lashing rain. "It's not going so well," he'd murmur, "but I have a plan".
Inevitably his plans were perfect, and allowed him to sidestep bad weather, sponsors pulling out and my bad ideas to get yet another film in the bag. We'd finally catch up a few weeks later and there would always be a pleasingly epic tale (a drone breaking his finger on the Cosmiques arête, abandoning filming to help with an accident on the Inn Pinn) which we'd laugh about as the film inched to completion.
It's no exaggeration to say his films made BMC TV what it is. From his series of short films of Britain's Mountain Challenges and Great Walks to his more thoughtful wandering such as iWalk and Go Wild, his experience of a storyteller who fully loved the British outdoors shines through. It's hard to imagine that that's the end of the plans, and our thoughts are with his family and friends.
WATCH: Go Wild, a follow-up to iWalk, featuring outdoor instructor Ailsa Orlik on BMC TV:
Claire Maxted, Trail Running magazine
Half way up a mountain, a man with wild curly brown hair, grinning his head off, eyes crinkled up with laughter. That was our Ben. This warm and wonderful man both starred in and took some of the best photos in Trail Running and Trail magazines.
He was a gifted writer, inspiring photographer and more recently a talented video-maker, but above all, he was a friend. He transformed a boring traffic jam on the way back from a job in north Wales into a fascinating philosophy discussion about 'dana' (the Buddhist practice of giving).
We shared the joy of returning to the dry bubble of a car from an epic, rain-lashed run down from Scafell Pike. He told me he thought the word 'noble' ought to be used more on a shoot in Cornwall. He wouldn't stop taking pictures until sunset on Latrigg because the light was too beautiful to be missed. We put the world to rights over pizza and beer at trade shows and had impassioned debates about politics in the wilderness of Knoydart.
It's so hard to believe that our smiling, creative, passionate friend has so suddenly and unexpectedly, gone. We all miss Ben, and our hearts go out to his family. With them and his many friends we will remember Ben forever, and celebrate his amazing life.
WATCH: Really useful guide to the Comici The Comici Route, one of the great routes of the Alps
Dan Thompson, Rab Marketing Manager
I first met Ben in 2009, he was heading to Scotland to shoot a winter campaign for Rab and I had to drop off the three holdalls of gear he needed, I was late and managed to get hopelessly lost in the maze of Sheffield streets, but when I finally found Ben his enthusiasm and excitement was infectious and we talked over coffee about kit, shot lists, conditions, and, of course, the weather… despite the fact Ben had a long drive ahead, he made time to talk and left a lot later than planned.
It was this enthusiasm, this passion and his sense of humour that made Ben so great to be around. He was a larger than life character and had a unique way of looking at people and the world that was reflected in his work.
There are so many stories that could be told and each member of our extended team have expressed their own stories and memories of Ben, many of which appear in the breath-taking photos he brought back from locations all over the world.
Personally, in recent years I shared with Ben the joys of parenthood and compared experiences of the outdoors through the eyes of a father and that is the Ben I will remember, grinning, wide-eyed and brimming with pride. We will all miss Ben and our thoughts are with his family and friends.
WATCH: Britain's Mountain Challenges: Llech Ddu, on BMC TV:
Read more in our How to Scramble Llech Ddu Spur article
Simon Ingram, Trail Magazine
A beautiful man, whose love of the world and living his life in it was infectious, and affecting. Those of us fortunate enough to know him all admired Ben's depthless passion, but also what he brought back for us all from some of the world's wildest places – snapshots not only of the wilderness but the wilderness through the eyes of a singular talent.
His ability to articulate energy, danger, joy and sheer thrill into an image or a sequence or a sentence was genuinely extraordinary, and often made us trip on our breath. We will treasure his memory and the legacy of work he left, of which his family should be truly proud of in a way that Ben himself was always too much of a perfectionist to admit to being. We will miss his energy and commitment and his talent. But far and above all else, we will miss him.
WATCH: Britain's Mountain Challenges: Crib Goch, on BMC TV:
Read more in our How to Scramble Crib Goch article
Matt Swaine, formerly Trail Magazine
My first adventure with Ben took us across all of the Welsh 3000ers and we instantly found our template for a wonderful friendship. One minute we’d be discussing the philosophically profound and the next we’d be in fits of laughter over something deeply inconsequential.
Ben made adventure easy. He somehow got me up Tower Ridge, we got soaked walking across the Lakes, climbed Scotland’s highest mountains in a weekend, and he even gave my kids an introduction to his beloved Peak District.
I loved his warmth, his sense of humour but above all I loved thirst for ideas. Life for him was a voyage of discovery, whether climbing mountains and meditating or inspiring others to do the same through his writing and photography. What a full and wonderful life. What a very lovely man. Like so many others I will miss you very much.
Mary-Ann Ochota, TV presenter
I only met Ben this May, but in the short time we worked together, I knew I’d made a lifelong friend. We shot five films in the Great Walks series for BMC TV, supported by Marmot, showcasing some of the best day walks to be had in the Lakes. The quality of Ben’s work speaks for itself – but it’s not always obvious just how much graft a 4-minute short demands.
Ben never stopped - he was as enthusiastic at the end of an 18–hour day as he was at the start, setting up shots, waiting (almost patiently) for weather windows, passing over time and time again with the drone in order to nail the perfect aerial. Despite the schedule, it felt less like work and more like being on holiday with a great mate. We just happened to make five films along the way and walk some fantastic fells.
In his writing, photos and video, Ben succeeded in capturing the majesty and complexity of wild places. He was at home in the mountains, and he showed that they are exciting and inviting. Those images will stand tribute to him, and hopefully inspire a new generation of people to discover the mountains for themselves.
I think the only appropriate way to pay tribute to such a wise, funny, kind person is to try and live a little bit more like he did – ethically, honestly, passionately, bravely. He actually lived by the principles many of us only talk about. He left a pretty small carbon footprint but an almighty emotional and spiritual one in the lives of the people he met. I’m proud to be able to call Ben my friend. The world is poorer for his loss.
Ally Swinton, climber
It seems very unfair that anyone should have to write a tribute to Ben Winston in this moment of time, as the man had so much left to give everyone. I am honoured to be asked to write a tribute about him at such a sad time.
The one thing that probably always amazed me was how open he was. He would talk to anyone about anything. He would love to chat about climbing and discuss about photography, but mostly he would talk passionately about Emma his phenomenal partner, and Lila his beautiful daughter.
However what I loved about Ben was how he was more interested in other people and what they had to say. He had this amazing way of drawing you into conversation, I think this was due to his crazy hair that would cast some sort of hypnotic spell on you. Fixing you into a trance and making you talk for hours. It was either the hair or the fact the man had such a honest soul and was genuinely interested in anything you had to say.
I was lucky enough to have travelled many places around the world with Ben. The majority of friends that knew Ben was probably through climbing and his photography work. If you were lucky enough to share such moments with him, then you would know that he was happiest when things were "WILD!!"
I feel saddened by the fact I won't get to see him again, but I'm so grateful for every moment I've spent with the man and everything he has done for me.
Thank you Ben Winston.