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What I Actually Needed to Trail Run the Four Pass Loop In A Day

Kelly Gazarik undertook the challenging Four Pass Loop, a 27.4 mile route in the heart of the picturesque Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness near Aspen, Colorado in July, 2023. Kelly ran the entire trail in one day. In addition to the 27.4 miles, the Four Pass Loop also includes an impressive 7,734 feet of elevation gain, ascending and descending the four passes that punctuate the route. Connect with Kelly on Instagram at @k52banana and donate to her campaign here.

Kelly Gazarik is holding poles and wearing a running vest with mountains and green behind her

Quick Stats

Total Mileage: 27.4 miles
Trail Shape: Lollipop
Trip Length: 1 day 
Trailhead: Maroon Lake (39.0986° N, 106.9407° W)
Closest town to trailhead: Aspen
Ending point:  Maroon Lake 
Closest town to trailend: Aspen
Dogs Allowed: On some parts 
Permit Required: For overnight stays 

Kelly Gazarik | The Cairn Project-9723

Post-Trip Thoughts

Wow. This was an absolutely incredible trip! It was more beautiful than I could have ever imagined; every few miles the scenery changed. I had a very strong start and felt relatively well for the entire journey. There were a few challenging parts! The climb to Frigid Air pass had some steep snow crossings and muddy sections that made staying on my feet a challenge. The feeling of reaching the top of the last pass, West Maroon, was pure bliss. I am so grateful that I was able to complete this loop! 

Kelly Gazarik is holding poles and wearing a running vest with mountains and green behind her. she is facing away from the camera

Gear I Actually Used

  • Trail Running Shoes – Trail running shoes offer more traction, support, and stability to help tackle technical terrain. These will be so important on the steep and rocky passes.
    • Kelly’s Thoughts: The trusty Speedgoats did it again! I had zero foot problems on the entire adventure (no blisters!!).
    • Our suggestion: HOKA Speedgoat 5 
  • Running Vest & Hydration Pack – 12L running vest to carry food, water, and all my gear. On longer runs it’s important to keep hydrated and keep up my energy! Sometimes water sources are scarce so having 3L water capacity was important.
    • Kelly’s Thoughts: This was my first 12+ hr adventure with this vest and I really liked it. It did well adapting to my very full pack at the beginning and my very empty pack at the end. 
    • Our suggestion: Salomon Adv Skin 12 
  • GPS Running Watch – A watch that measures my heart rate, distance, pace, and elevation gain. I can download a GPS map of my route on my watch so I can track my progress day of. 
    • Kelly’s Thoughts: I loved having the Fenix 7. I was able to download the course beforehand and it broke down the run into different up and down segments, which I really appreciated at the end of the day when it was getting tough. Another win, the battery lasted the whole adventure! 
    • Our suggestion: Garmin Fenix 7 
  • Satellite Phone – A satellite messenger that allows me to send text messages, my location, and SOS alerts. This trail had little to no cellular service so I relied on my satellite phone to communicate with my support team.
    • Kelly’s Thoughts: My satellite phone was set up to send tracking points every 10 minutes to a website that I shared with friends and family. They were all able to track me and see my progress throughout the day; I thought it was a really fun thing to do, especially for a fundraiser! 
    • Our suggestion: Garmin inReach Mini 2 
  • Sunshirt  – A long sleeve shirt with a hood that offers UPF 50+ sun protection.
    • Kelly’s Thoughts: I wore this the entire day. I never took it off. I absolutely love my sunshirt and was so thankful that I had it during this trip. I didn’t have to worry about the sun and it was so soft and comfy.
    • Our suggestion: Crater Lake Long Sleeve Hoody 
  • Waterproof Running Jacket – Lightweight waterproof jacket that offers protection during bad weather.
    • Kelly’s Thoughts: I prefer ones that can pack small and have some amount of breathability.
    • Our suggestion: Patagonia Houdini 
  • Hat – Lightweight breathable hat to protect my head and face from the sun, sleet, and rain.
    • Kelly’s Thoughts: The hat was perfect for our sunny adventure. I wore it the entire time and I like having the ability to wear it with a high or low ponytail. 
    • Our suggestion: VimHue
  • Neck Gaiter –  A sweat-wicking neck gaiter to protect myself from the elements. This is a very versatile item that can be used several different ways like a headband or a bandage.
    • Kelly’s Thoughts: Worked great. I wore it the whole day and it kept the sun off my neck. I dipped it in at several stream crossings to stay cool. 
    • Our suggestion: Buff CoolNet UV 
  • Sunglasses – It is always a good idea to protect your eyes especially during a full day outside in the Colorado sunshine.  Mine are polarized to help see trails and obstacles when there is a lot of glare.
    • Another great piece of gear. I pretty much wore them the whole day to protect my eyes. 
    • Our suggestion: Goodr
  • Extra pair of running socks – The trail reports show lots of snow melt and high creek crossing.
    • Kelly’s Thoughts: I brought an extra pair of socks to try and keep my feet dry and prevent blisters. These were incredible. I crossed several knee-high creeks and having an extra pair of socks was so nice to keep my feet dry. 
    • Our suggestion: Balega Blister Resist 
  • Headlamp – A flashlight that you can wear around your head like a headband.
    • Kelly’s Thoughts: It did its job for the first 25 minutes I was running in the darkness before the sun rose.
    • Our suggestion: Black Diamond Spot 400 
  • Running Poles – Lightweight trekking poles. I found these help me climb hills faster and more efficiently.
    • Kelly’s Thoughts: I used these for all of the uphills, which ended up being the majority of the trail. They were especially helpful in several high-level creek crossings, steep snow fields, and muddy parts of the trail. 
    • Our suggestion: Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking Poles 
  • Water filter – Hydration is key and I refilled my water often. A filter allowed me to drink stream water safely.
    • Kelly’s Thoughts: I used this 4 or 5 times during the adventure. I was going through my water pretty quickly and stopped several times to fill up from the creeks. 
    • Our suggestion: Sawyer Mini 
  • Sunscreen – I always wear and bring sunscreen to protect me from the sun’s harmful UV rays. It is no joke, especially at high elevation.
    • Kelly’s Thoughts: I am proud to say I did not have sunburn after this adventure. Thank you sunscreen! 
    • Our suggestion: Sun Bum Mineral 
  • First Aid Kit – A basic first aid kit with the essentials to help myself or others in the case of an injury or an emergency.
  • Electrolytes – Dissolvable salt tablets to help prevent cramping especially in the heat.
    • Kelly’s Thoughts: I kept my bladder full of water and my bottles full of Nuun. I probably went through 6 tablets over the whole day.  I never felt too fatigued or crampy so I will consider this a success! 
    • Our suggestion: Nuun 
  • Food – Trail running nutrition is different for everyone. There are so many choices to help fuel you on long runs. I took several gels, energy waffles, bars, and a few pieces of candy to keep me fueled and motivated.
    • Kelly’s Thoughts: I was taking food every 30 – 45 minutes and enjoyed  a celebratory Snickers at the top of every pass! I had no issues with my trail nutrition and was happy I packed extra snacks.  
    • Our suggestion: Huma Chia Energy Gels 

Gear I Didn’t Use

  • Trail Running Gaiters – Lightweight gaiters that attach to my shoes to protect my feet from dirt, rocks, and mud.
    • Kelly’s Thoughts: I forgot these at home. Thankfully, this trail is well established and I did ok without them.
    • Our suggestion: REI Swiftland 
  • Gloves – Running gloves that will keep my hands warm during the first few hours before the sun has risen. 
    • Kelly’s Thoughts: It was so warm at the start of the run I didn’t need them. I lucked out with the weather at the passes. The passes were very toasty and had little to no wind.
    • Our suggestion: Seirus Heatwave Liner 

Final Thoughts

This was the best I have ever packed for a long trail running adventure. I think it was so successful because of the many trials and errors I had during my training runs. Keep experimenting and find what works for you!  I’m excited I could learn from this trip as I prepare for my next adventure in Alaska at the end of August! 

Kelly Gazarik crosses a river using polls

If you’d like to support Kelly in reaching her goal of fundraising $2000 and help the next generation of explorers, please donate to her campaign

Kelly smiles towards the camera with a stream and moutains behind her. She is carrying a backpack and wearing hiking clothes.
Kelly Gazarik

Kelly is a Colorado transplant who grew up on the east coast as part of a very active family. Growing up backpacking, skiing, climbing, and whitewater rafting, leading her first backpacking trip when she was only in high school, and getting more involved with higher peaks in college, Kelly is an avid outdoor enthusiast. Today, she primarily enjoys her time outside through trail running and backpacking, often with friends and her dog, Bear. Kelly also enjoys making pottery in her free time and giving back to STEM communities such as the Society of Women Engineers.