Saturday, 25 May 2013

Mountain man turned Dr. Doolittle—Rolly Giroux

Rolly Giroux.

Rolly Giroux says he once lived in the city and had a “normal” life. In fact, it sounds like an extraordinary life — engineering hand gliders in California. The  workaday life wasn’t for him though so, middle aged, he headed for B.C. and a quieter existence. He eventually took refuge in the mountains outside of Coalmont.

Local authorities turned a blind eye to Giroux’s forest encampment because he was an extra set of eyes and ears watching for fires and protecting logging equipment during the winter months.

Giroux was the type of guy who needed to be on his own and he, more than anyone else, knew it.

He carried on this reclusive lifestyle for 13 years until an accident ended it for him in March of 2008.

It was mid-day and the snow was starting to melt under the spring sun, creating small waterfalls over the rock face along the old logging road. Giroux was on his snowmobile heading to his cabin with firewood for the coming week.

Suddenly, he heard a huge bang, a rumble — he felt snow and trees falling from the sky. Then he was in motion. He was swept up, turning and twisting, in a blanket of mud, rocks, sticks and snow. Then all went dark.

When he opened his eyes the stars were out. He was cold and wet and had no idea how much time had passed. There was a hard metal sheet pushing against the top of his head. He realized it was his sled. He somehow gathered the strength to push it off. He heard it slide its way down the hill and sploosh into the creek far below.

He stayed still, thinking, for what seemed like days, but may have been hours. It occurred to him people must be searching for him. He had always told locals in town that if they didn’t hear from him on his radio phone for over 48 hours then something was wrong and to come looking.

Even still, he decided as dark turned to light that he needed to move or he might die. He flipped onto his stomach and used the rifle he always carried with him to push himself into a half-standing position. He was aware that his body wasn’t working like it should— he couldn’t stand upright— but strangely he felt no pain beyond an all over ache.

He used the rifle like a walking stick and started to walk-crawl. In his mind he could picture his cabin about six kilometers away and imagined he would make it home if he stopped a few times along the way to rest and warm up.


He managed to hobble forward for 100 yards before his body refused to continue. His survival instinct kicked in as he gathered tree branches and leaves. He held his breath as he rummaged through his down-filled jacket. He exhaled with relief when his fingers found his pack of smokes with a matchbook tucked inside. He struck match after match, but the wet brush refused to light. He attempted to set two more fires along the trail, but it was futile. He tried to keep moving, but then, he lost consciousness.

Meanwhile, an RCMP helicopter was circling overhead looking for Giroux. Rescuers soon spotted the injured man—naked, in the fetal position with his buttocks in the air and his head stuck deep in the snow.

Twenty to 50 per cent of hypothermia deaths show evidence of paradoxical undressing. This stripping off all clothing can happen with moderate to severe hypothermia. One explanation for this is the heat regulating part of the brain gets confused, making the person feel hot. Finding Giroux with his head in the snow can also be explained as terminal burrowing which is a self-protective behaviour in the final stage of hypothermia.

Giroux would eventually learn he had broken his ribs, his back and both legs. He would never hear out of his left ear or see out of his right eye the same again. Doctors told him he would have to stay in hospital for six months and would never walk again. He left in three months permanently disabled, but able to walk without assistance. He tried going up to the mountains again shortly after his return, but it is physically too hard on him now.

On top of the trauma from the accident he has a bad heart. He had a pacemaker put in in the early 1990s, but his heart is still weak.

Rolly with his latest friend Poco.

“The doc says I should be dead,” he says, “but I just keep going. My animals keep me going."

He now lives on the edge of Coalmont  in a trailer with animal enclosures and pens in his front yard. He has set up a makeshift animal sanctuary.

Locals agree the man has a gift with animals of all kinds.

There is a scruffy boar named Charlie, who he has taken to the Coalmont hotel pub more than a few times, and a goat named Stella who greets guests with a curious cock of her head. A rambunctious brown and black border collie named Midge runs in circles around Giroux until the man sends him to the open field across from his cabin with a growl of “get cows” which sends the dog barking and running at full speed. There are also chickens and rabbits, which are well taken care of until they end up in a pot.

The goat, Stella, seems to be Giroux’s favourite. She even follows him into the house.

“She’s my baby,” says Giroux.

An abandoned deer was found in the yard of a Princeton resident. Word spread and the deer ended up with Giroux. He spent months raising it, including bottle-feeding it, until it was strong enough to leave.

In spite of his gentle nature with animals, Giroux is still rough around the edges.  He would rather be in the bush where he didn't have to deal with people much at all. His speech is peppered with swear words and sayings long considered inappropriate. “Why would I need a woman for anything? I have a goat,” he says. He gets really riled up when the conversation turns to local bylaw or RCMP officers who he says he will "put in the ground" if they get in his way. Like many in this pioneering town, he does things his own way and does not like being told what to do.

Local residents seem to have a fondness for Giroux though and good-naturedly call him "grumpy". He wholeheartedly agrees with this assessment. His animals however, think he is a lifesaver.

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