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Q&A With a Cool Coloradan: Aspen’s Adventure Man About Town

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From emceeing the Wild and Scenic Film Festival to leading underprivileged kids on backcountry adventures to guiding international travelers through the wilds of the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond through his company Atlas Hands Travel (not to mention his work as a real estate broker and mentor for the Big Buddy Program), Lane Johnson is rarely found sitting still.

Atlas Hands leads customized trips, including epics like mountain biking Horsethief Bench Loop on the Colorado–Utah border, cross-country skiing on Taylor Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, paddleboarding on the Colorado River’s Shoshone Rapids and rock climbing near Independence ghost town.

We asked him how he landed here from his early days in small-town South Carolina and about one of his greatest Colorado treks.

Why did you decide to make Colorado your home?
I visited as a kid and the feeling I had here was forever etched into my mind. I knew that I would return. I came out to Aspen for one ski season, stayed the summer to raft guide and, out of nowhere, got a chance to work and travel with Warren Miller Films hosting all shows in the North American Tour.

That was eight years ago and I’m still here. And I’m pleased that I have made it work and that I can live such a fulfilling life in a place that must be the best place on Earth.
 
How do you fit Colorado adventures into your busy schedule?
I wake up early, skip out at lunch and enjoy the off season! In the winter, I skin up the mountain and get turns before the lifts start spinning and then I'm showered and at work before most folks make it into the office. In summer and fall, I'm on early-morning paddleboard trips.
 
What entry-level activities would you recommend for people just getting started in the outdoors?
Always start at a novice level for safety and to not scare yourself away from the sport. I hear too often of friends taking other friends straight to a black diamond ski run when they aren¹t ready. If they get down without injury they are lucky, but they rarely return. Start on the bunny slopes — no shame in learning a sport for the first time!
 
What is your favorite kind of CO adventure?
Multi-sport adventures! Pack the car with bikes, paddleboards, climbing gear, a tent and sleeping bags — and then stay out for a few days to see what arises.
 
You’re in real estate. Do you ever take your clients on adventures?
Of course! We really sell the Aspen lifestyle as opposed to an actual building structure. After all, if they are doing it right, they’ll be outside all day anyway.

Best tip for people visiting Colorado?
Come to Aspen in the fall! The crowds are gone and the access and beauty are still in full force.
 
What’s one of your top Colorado adventures?
It’s a trip that few folks have ever done ... Traditional climbing the Chimneys of Treasure Mountain. We backpacked in and climbed the spires for three days.
 
The Chimneys of Treasure are a collection of wild and secluded alpine spires in the Elk Mountains, ranging from 50 to 300 feet high. The spires hold a number of quality, moderate climbs on surprisingly good rock. There are also some steep splitter hand and finger cracks on the Grand Chimney just begging to get climbed. Adventure climbing at its finest!

Although the area has potential for several first ascents, it has been seeing climbers since the 1960s. Outward Bound has been putting students on top of the spires for more than 40 years and has kept the area entirely pristine. If you choose to climb at the Chimneys, please follow in this tradition.
 
The approach can be difficult, especially if you don't have a really badass 4-wheel-drive car. The road is treacherous to say the least. You'll need to make it to the town of Crystal, which is a tiny little mountain town at the base of Schofield Pass, on the Carbondale side. Head up from Carbondale toward Marble, and continue past Marble to Crystal.

Just before you get to the town of Crystal, you'll get a classic view of the Crystal River Mill from the road. Pass through town slowly, and after you're through, bear right (south) and you'll end up in some campsites. There are a few good river crossings from these campsites, which is what you'll need to do.

At this point you'll be bushwhacking, but if you continue straight up the slope on the other side of the river, you'll eventually run into a trail within a half hour or so. You can't miss the trail as it's traversing the slope you'll be going straight up.

The trail will lead you all the way up the gorgeous, remote drainage. You can't miss the awesome towers, and the best camping is far up in the drainage. There are really nice flat grassy/tundra lawns with granite humps surrounding, just below the spires. I'd give it 5 miles from the car-camping sites to the bivvy sites.

No water purifier is needed up at the top of the drainage, and there seems to be melt off through September due to massive wind loading on the upper slopes of Treasure Mountain.

Car-to-car is doable, but the chimneys are intimidating and it could take a few days to enjoy them properly. We used dirt bikes to get from Marble to Crystal, parking at Beaver Lake in Marble. It would take a Jeep or a smaller truck to breach the road into Crystal otherwise.