A windy day on the ice for Professor Popsicle

U of M hypothermia expert Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht enjoys a brief but memorable return to Pelican Lake


Some fairly fast walking, plus the wind chill factor, shortened a planned three-day lake hike for one of the country’s leaders in cold weather research.

Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, aka ‘Professor Popsicle,’ had intended to spend three days hiking along Pelican Lake, cut off from the cellular world, and ensconced in the polar Manitoba winter weather, said his local friend Charles Roberts.

“I have just dropped him off, just after 10 a.m. this morning, at the lake by the Pleasant Valley Golf Course,” said Roberts last Thursday, February 18. “He’s going to spend three days on the ice, and camp out on the ice two nights. He’s pulling a sleigh, with a tent, a sleeping bag, and a mountaineer cook stove, and his dehydrated foods. There are little hubs of fishing shacks on the lake, but he’s keeping himself to himself, and he’ll be camping alone. Although I hope the fishermen might offer him a hot cup of coffee as he passes through.”

Roberts, who lives in Ninette, and owns a cabin on the lake near to the professor, said that Dr. Giesbrecht would be turning off his cell phone, and cutting all contact with the outside world during most of his recreational foray across the deeply frozen Pelican Lake.

“Dr. Popsicle will be off his phone until Friday evening. He won’t turn it on until then, and when he does, the call will be to let me know an ETA (estimated time of arrival) for picking him up at Terry Fox Park sometime on Saturday,” said Roberts. “We will probably have a bonfire going, and some hot chocolate, to welcome him back.”

But a phone call from a somewhat chilled Professor Popsicle lit up his screen much earlier than expected.

“He called me the same day, on Thursday, at around 6 p.m.,” said Roberts. “I thought he was in trouble on the lake. He said, ‘I have a big problem.’” 

The ‘problem’ was that Professor Popsicle had made incredibly good time on his trek that day.

“I have very arthritic knees,” said Dr. Giesbrecht. “Back in November, 2000, I was skateboarding on a half-pipe, and stupidly wrecked my knees. I have had six surgeries, and now the arthritis is so bad in both knees I can’t play hockey anymore. But I thought I might take an easy hike along Pelican Lake, and see how my knees worked. I decided to have some fun.”

So he began walking along the 11-mile-long lake.

“It was perfect,” said Dr. Giesbrecht. “It was fantastic. I loved it. I got so far, and I thought, ‘It’s too early to camp out,’ so I kept going. And I just kept walking. I got to Manhattan Beach, and kept going. My knees were good. It was maybe minus 10 or 15 C, plus the wind chill, and I was pretty comfortable. Only my hands were cold from holding a camera and videotaping.”

And just as darkness was setting in, he completed the final leg of the trip, washing up at Terry Fox Park in Ninette. He stashed his sled in some bushes on the shore, headed up the road, and made a phone call on the way.

“I called Charles, and I said, ‘I’ve got a big problem. I don’t think I’ll be able to camp on the lake,’” said Giesbrecht. “And he said, ‘How come?’ And I said, ‘Because I am walking the streets of Ninette, on the way to your house.’”

Dr. Giesbrecht joined Roberts’ family for dinner, and dug into some tasty homemade BLT wraps made by his wife, said Roberts. 

“Then Gordon pulled out dessert,” he said. “It was a dehydrated apple crumble dessert, part of his rations that he had been saving for a treat on his travels.”

“I once planned to go to the North Pole,” said Dr. Giesbrecht. “In order to prepare for this I made four expeditions on Lake Winnipeg. Two of them were two weeks long, the first one in 1996, and the second one in 1997. Overall I have spent 100 days hiking and skiing on Lake Winnipeg. But in 2004 I packed my sled away. The North Pole trek would have been three times as much work, and my knees wouldn’t take it.” 

Roberts said that Giesbrecht’s weekend trek was undertaken in part to mark the 20th anniversary of his One Million Steps Winter Research Expedition on Lake Winnipeg. This was an event that took place back in February of 2001, when five men hauled sleds the length of Lake Winnipeg in a Scientific Winter Expedition that covered 450 kms in 19 days.

“Eleven miles would have been an average day for the Winnipeg Lake expeditions,” said Dr. Giesbrecht. “My day on Pelican Lake was a one-day distance. And my knees held out pretty good. It was a great day. But on Friday and Saturday they were hurting.”

As the internationally popular ‘Professor Popsicle,’ Dr. Giesbrecht has led groundbreaking research work into the effects on humans of Manitoba weather conditions, and also into the best way to survive a vehicle accident after entering a body of water, amongst sharing a wealth of other incredible information about the natural world and our place in it.

In his role as a professor at the University of Manitoba, Dr. Gordon G. Giesbrecht operates the Laboratory for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, where he studies human responses to exercise/work in extreme environments. 

He has conducted hundreds of cold-water immersion studies that have provided valuable information about cold stress physiology and pre-hospital care for human hypothermia. 

Other research interests include human physical and mental performance in other stresses such as altitude (hypoxia) and diving (hypobaria). These  topics include:




Thermal stress

Environmental stress

Vehicle safety

Vehicle submersion

Cold exposure



Here’s the link to the Pelican Lake video on Gordon’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/gordon.giesbrecht.1/videos/10159391083255039

SETTING OUT FOR THE TREK – ‘Professor Popsicle’ (Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht) was photographed last Thursday morning as he departed the shores near the Pleasant Valley Golf Course, pulling his winter-provisioned sled behind him. It was the start of a planned three-day trek along Pelican Lake – that included a surprise ending. “I decided to have some fun,” said the well-known U of M professor. “It was the 20th anniversary of the One Million Steps expedition, and time to do something to celebrate it.” 


PROFESSOR POPSICLE ON PELICAN LAKE – Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht (above), aka ‘Professor Popsicle,’ has completed many years of in-depth research on the effects of extreme cold conditions, and also how to survive a vehicle crash into water.

SLEDDING INTO TERRY FOX PARK – The 11-mile trek on Pelican Lake went so well that Professor Popsicle (despite his bad knees) slid onto Ninette’s shores two days ahead of time. And surprised his alarmed friend Charles Roberts, who had planned a bit of a community welcome for the popular University of Manitoba professor.