My relationship with the Ariel 55L started as soon as I was hired at an outdoor gear shop. I lived in a small, francophone Canadian town, had just turned fifteen and loved looking at our big backpack wall, dreaming of my customers’ adventures. Through training and experience, I learned about the different uses for backpacks, their specs, and the background on different brands that made them. Osprey stood out of the crowd for me. For starters, my manager was clearly biased and the company’s dedication to quality & detail combined with its consistent honoring of the All Mighty Guarantee made me develop a lot of respect for Osprey.
About a year after being hired at the outdoors shop, I left for a month-long immersion in the Costa Rican culture, doing volunteer work for a remote community. I was inspired by all these backpackers who stopped by the shop to save up for my own adventure. It was the perfect excuse to purchase the red Ariel 55 that had been haunting my dreams.
This first independent trip abroad truly opened my eyes to the vastness of our planet. It was the beginning of the end; I just had to see it all! After my first year of university, my backpack took me through five European countries and by my third year of university, I was off to Asia for a study abroad term combined with a lot of travelling (work hard, play harder as they say!). I am now in my fourth year and back in Costa Rica doing a volunteer marketing internship.With every trip I take, my attraction to nature grows. I find myself always dedicating a greater proportion of my free time to hiking amidst the beautiful mountains of this world.
After the first six weeks of my internship, I had a scheduled break to visit Guatemala and take Spanish classes there. The true highlight of this three-week trip was hiking the Acatenango volcano near the colonial city of Antigua. Always on a tight budget, I went with the cheapest tour operator I could find. I figured the gear that they would provide us wouldn’t be shiny and new, but I had no idea of what was to come. After discovering the pack they would have provided us was very uncomfortable on my back and shoulders, I was very thankful to have my own bag. I had only packed extra layers and some food, but the rest of my backpack was filled with one enormous, torn apart sleeping bag. Had it not been of such great quality, my backpack would have exploded. Additionally, I strapped the old, broken mattress, as well as an old and broken tent, on the outside of the backpack. I still don’t know how I managed to fit everything inside.
Once everything was in place, I barely felt the weight of all these items on my back. We started the six-hour ascent to our campground and it was immediately obvious that not everyone was on the same level; I felt bad for the others in our group who had ill-fitting packs. Despite offering to adjust their straps, when the size or the quality is not right, the weight just can’t be distributed properly. One member of our group, in her early twenties, hired a porter and still had to turn back once we were halfway to the campsite. To be fair, the hike was very hard – the Acatenango goes up, and up, and up, without ever giving you a break. The trail starts in fields and farmland, to soon reach the cloud forest, and later the alpine vegetation well above the clouds. Our hiking conditions were perfect: not too warm, not too cold with just enough wind and sun. The views got more and more breathtaking by the minute. When I saw the gorgeous Atitlán Lake reflecting the sunlight from above, I felt satisfied with the rewards of my effort. Although I was not asking for more, I kept receiving more. At the turn of a curve, the alpine vegetation gave way to what I imagine planet Mars to be like; our surroundings suddenly became a desert of volcanic sand. Not long after, as we got closer to the campsite on the other side of the mountain, we could see another mountain peeking out in the distance. It was the Fuego volcano, standing no more than three kilometers from our campsite.
While setting up camp, the whole group could not contain their excitement as we witnessed our first eruption. Just as I imagined, the volcano spat lava and smoke high up in the sky and boomed like the sound of thunder. Fuego continued this light and sound show throughout the night, making it very hard to close our amazed eyes and get some sleep.
We summited Acatenango early in morning to catch the sunrise. Our legs were tired, the sand was deep, and it was cold and dark outside. Pushing through this last effort was completely worth it. As the sun rose, the clouds dissipated and made way to a beautiful view of Guatemala’s plains, frequently interrupted by a rising volcano. Within the same panoramic view was the sunrise and the still very active Fuego volcano. As tired as I was to reach the summit, it was well worth the effort. How will I ever beat this hike in my life?
From my first job to my crazy university adventures, Osprey has always had my back. My backpack has been doing its job, toughing out my great and not so great packing days, without ever causing trouble. The Acatenango experience, facilitated by having quality gear, was one that I will never forget. I have learned that good equipment and preparation are the two variables that make the difference between doing something incredible and enjoying it in the process.