Building an igloo near Lake Tahoe

Mar 8, 2018

For some time, I've wanted to build an igloo. I'm sure I'm no different from you in this regard. This winter, I gave it an actual try. I failed, but the fun is in trying.

Cresting the ridge on the way to Meiss Meadows

Winter hadn't give us much snow this year in the western Sierras, but in early March, we had a major dump which in a couple days put more snow on the mountains than there had been all year up until that point. Game on!

Snoeshoes on, packs loaded. The plan was to build a 9ft diameter igloo and sleep in it overnight. None of us had ever done this, but I had bought this igloo form tool :

Icebox igloo tool

It's a tool for packing the igloo blocks in place. The form is at the end of a telescoping pole that adjusts as each layer of the igloo goes in place. Essentially, you spiral around until you get to the top, packing snow in as you go forming a wall.

The plan was to get an early start by driving up and sleeping at a nearby resort for the night. With luck, we'd have most of the day to build an igloo, which should be more than enough. Best laid plans and all that, but we got into the room the night before *much* later than planned and got a less than alpine start in the morning, giving us less time than we had hoped. Also, the hike into our location took a bit of time. We only started our igloo after lunch.

We did made progress. I think we got the walls roughly 4 ft tall before the sun settled in behind the ridge and we needed to stop for the day.

Time lapse of igloo going up.

We still planned to spend the night, and we had a backup tent for this purpose. However, it was quite windy and we did not have any snow stakes for the tent, so we decided to set up the tent inside the igloo wall for some extra support. to do so, we needed to knock out a corner of the igloo for the tent to stick out a bit. Here's a photo in the morning light of what we had after the tent was removed.

Photo of the igloo with the wall knocked out to make space for a tent.


In our case, we decided to build our igloo in Meiss Meadows near Lake Tahoe. The area is technically available for backpack camping as is follows allong the Pacific Crest Trail. It also enjoys easy access from one of California's Sno Parks. Sno Parks themselves are little more than parking lots that are kept plowed in the winter. You aren't really allowed to camp in them, but you can park there overnight for some reason. However, if you hike in a bit from the parking lot into Meiss Meadows, you can camp there. At that point you are technically on the Pacific Crest trail, which allows wilderness camping.

The other nice part about this area is it is right down the street from Kirkwood ski resort. So, we spent the night before our adventure in Kirkwood for a fresh start. Things didn't really work out that way, but that was the plan at least.