About Me - Jo (Rhino Hiker) Devenish

A love of wildlife and wild places, seeking out adventures sometimes filled with solitude and adrenaline and an overwhelming need to try and help preserve our endangered species, especially the rhino, are some of the reasons for me wanting to hike the Scenic Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from the Mexican to the Canadian border a distance of approximately 2600miles (4260kms). I am passionate about hiking and exploring, and all that hiking embraces including the freedom of travel with your house on your back, plants and wildlife encounters, geology of the area, the weather, minimalist and no trace camping and meeting people that share my love of the outdoors.

The Pacific Crest Trail, I'm sure, will have its challenges. I hope to at the least, try to help raise awareness of the plight of the rhino and hopefully be able to raise funds to assist anti-poaching and caring for orphaned rhinos and to allow these animals to continue to thrive. The hunting of rhinos to extinction should send a shudder through us all and spur us to see how we can help.

I was privileged to grow up on a subtropical fruit farm near Tzaneen in northern South Africa with my parents and 4 siblings – life was carefree, exciting and I was given many freedoms to go and explore the surrounding rivers, mountains and trails on foot, motorbike or canoe. The Kruger National Park was only an hours' drive away and my parents took us on countless camping trips into the Park and exposing us to wildlife in all its many forms. My brother Darryl used to get me up early in the morning to go feed the birds on the lawn, this eventually progressed to the whole family becoming quite avid birders. At high school, I became very interested in tree identifying, which eventually led onto my passion for wildflower and plant identifying in the Arctic and sub-Arctic of Canada.

I attended a couple of multi-week outdoor wilderness courses in high school – giving me a taste of sailing, rock climbing, white water kayaking and extended hiking trips into the craggy peaks of the Drakenberg mountains. Every December holiday from age 12-17, I worked in a mission hospital as a receptionist and general assistant and went on to study medicine.

Cape Town University extended the outdoor adventures – scuba diving, hang gliding and soaring the cliffs above Sandy Bay and Kommetjie, and many hiking trips up Table Mountain, and the stark and bold rock formations of the Cedarberg and Hottentots Holland Range. In addition, I was fortunate to be able to travel on some very adventurous trips with my family and friends to the Okavango swamps in Botswana, Mocambique, Mauritius, and Namibia. I graduated from University in 1988 as a medical doctor and off I went to work in the new surroundings of Kwazulu Natal. I was thrown into the deep end of medicine and surgery, with countless sleepless yet sometimes very satisfying days. I still managed to squeeze in some scuba diving, motorbike trips up the coast, and hikes into the Drakensberg mountains. In the winter of 1990– I did a 10 hour trip on my motorbike back to Tzaneen having to stuff newspaper into my jean leggings to try survive the rather chilly ride! Life was ready to change again as I accepted a rural position in a teaching hospital near my home town of Tzaneen. A wonderful opportunity to spend some time with my parents and family again, and be a part of the building of my parents new home up in the mountains outside Tzaneen.

While paging through a medical magazine in 1991, I came across an advertisement for a medical locum in rural S-a-s-k-a-t-c-h-e-wan in Canada. As a South African, I certainly had no clue how to pronounce this! 3 months later, I was off to Canada, to a country that I had heard was very cold. Little did I know at this time that this decision to work for 4 months would dramatically change the course of my life. Life as a locum involved travelling to various communities to work – with tons of travel and exposure to this wonderful scenic country and its generous and kind people. One locum took me up into northern Saskatchewan and thus started an immediate love-affair with the north with its massive wilderness and beauty, and a relative lack of rules. Working as a locum allowed me enormous travel opportunites.

In 1991 – I travelled 32 states in the USA with a friend in a van for 6 months. Countless adventures including sailing the Everglades in our canoe with a rigged ground sheet as a sail and paddle as a rudder; hikes down into the Grand Canyon and canoeing in the bayou of Louisiana.

1993-1996 – multi-week sailing trips on the Great Slave Lake (Northwest Territories Canada), road trip to Alaska with my dear friend James and visiting Denali National Park with its fabulous wildlife of grizzly bears, moose, caribou and first seeing Mt McKinley (highest mountain in north America). I was introduced to snowmobiling and exploring the wild back country and lakes, and seeing huge caribou migrations.

In 1995, I drove my "Rainbow Warrior" VW Combi with its crazy red, yellow and orange colours, up into East Africa for 3 months – rafting the adrenaline filled Zambezi River and bungy jumping off the 300meter bridge over the Zambezi Gorge (Zimbabwe); visiting South Luangwe National Park (Zambia) and its fabulous wildlife; scuba diving Lake Malawi , multiple hikes and climbing Sapitwa (Mt Mulanje) in Malawi with a local guide (3002m). On entering Tanzania, I picked up a hitch-hiker, "McGuyer "(because he used a swiss army knife to get out of a locked washroom!) who was off to climb Kiimanjaro – I decided to join him and 3 days later, we were climbing this wonderful highest mountain in Africa (5 895 meters/ 19341 feet) with all its varied scenery – African savanna, rain forest, lobelia forest, stark rock and eventually glaciers. My first taste of altitude hiking…. After summiting, we travelled to Zanzibar to scuba dive and take in the Africa-Arabic exotic street foods.

Following Kilimanjaro, I attended a mountaineering course in the Rockies as I needed additional skills to allow me to climb higher mountains, and have safe travel on snow and glaciers.

In 1998, my friend James and I had the opportunity fly to Ellesmere Island in the high Arctic and hiked across Ellesmere National Park (latitude 82 degrees north) – now known as Quittinirpaaq National Park for 2 weeks with its massive glaciers and icefields, stark mountains and a brief summer explosion of wildflowers, a haven for muskox, wolf and arctic hare.

In 1998, I moved to Inuvik in the Arctic, a small town on the banks of the massive McKenzie River delta (90 kms across). My work was extremely interesting flying into remote Arctic communities. Over the next 3 years, I raced snowmobiles in 3 of the communities, winning multiple races including the coverted 40 mile race in Tuktoyaktuk as well as numerous trips exploring the tundra, frozen lakes and delta.

2001 I attended a ice climbing course again in the Rockies and then moved to the Yukon, a wilderness territiory in Canada.

2002 I climbed Aconcagua in Argentina on a 3 week expedition – highest mountain in north and south America (6962 meters/22 838feet). This was not a technical climb but I gained a healthy respect for altitude and its effects. 2 weeks later I climbed an active volcano Volan Villarica in Chile – an easy climb as I was fully acclimatized from the recent climb up Aconcagua.

2002 was also the year I reconnected with the love of my life, Stan. Multiple travel adventures ensued over the following years, including driving Egypt in a rental car (not for the feint of heart), multiple wildlife and family trips back to South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mocambique; Argentina and Chile; the azure blue Caribbean islands of Cuba and Jamiaca and the central American countries of Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador; the exploring travel through the UK and USA.

2005 I attempted a climb of Denali (Mt McKinley) in Alaska (6190 m/ 20 310 feet). I did not summit but did reach 20 000 feet. It was a tough expedition and struggled with the fact that I didn't reach the summit.

2008 I went on a month long trek in the Himalayas to Everest Base camp (17 600feet), Kala Patar – a spur on Pumori with good views of Everest (18 000feet) and base camp of Ama Dablan. A fabulous trek in a land of giants and gentle people.

2014 I did a 8 day charity motorcycle ride (for CAUSE Canada) with 5 friends to Sierra Leone in West Africa. Each of us bought a motorbike, which was then donated to the CAUSE team in Sierra Leona to assist them accessing the small remote villages for health care and education.

I am very privileged to have the Tombstone Mountains and its tremendous hiking opportunities on my doorstep. I head out solo hiking into the back country for at least a week on an annual basis, usually with my dog as hiking companion. I return rejuvenated and its always a stark reminder of how small I am in the big picture of Mother Natures' beauty.

In April 2017, I will start the Pacific Crest Trail. I am very grateful for the support and help from my brother Darryl, for his discussions and meetings with conservation organisations and being my trail manager in South Africa, my sister Cathryn and my brother in law Mike for creating a web page, logos and ideas to assist with fund raising efforts, and my partner Stan for all his encouragement and listening to trail jargon and re-supply details.