Ray and I decided do a little snow trip up to the Loch Leven Lakes area. This is one of those quick trips because the trailhead is right off highway 80 before Truckee. There are quite a few people that use this trailhead for day snow shoe trips and just playing in the snow so get there early to insure a parking spot. Once you get a 1/4 mile away from the trailhead you should have the area to yourself. Ray and I hiked in enough to get away from it all and then worked on a snow kitchen. See the map.
The "trail" on the way on is rather steep in spots so take your time and choose your route. There usually are quite a few routes that people have taken if it hasn't snowed recently. Having been to the area before Ray and I decided to just head for an area near the railroad tracks but still high enough and open enough to have good snow depth to work with.
This tree is near the spot we stopped to set up camp. It seems to point the way back in this picture.
So we stamped out a spot for the tent and then used "dead men" to anchor the tent and rainfly down. I have found that this works great and will hold your tent secure if the weather turns nasty. My Sierra Designs tent is a great 4 season tent and it doubles as a way to signal planes. Not that I have ever needed or wanted to.
Ray decided to work on the kitchen. This is Ray's first snow kitchen and he did an awesome job. Probing the snow ahead of time is key in any snow structure so you don't have to scrap your plan halfway in when you hit the top of a tree or big granite boulder. Also remember that it will be very cold once the sun goes down so any ramp too steep will be tricky to navigate when it is hard as ice. Steps are usually preferred but are tricky to make if the snow is not right. I have seen many stairs turn into a ramp after they are walked on a few times.
This is the ridge above the railroad tracks. You can almost see the lines in the snow where snowballs have gone down the hill. If you do venture around the railroad tracks please be careful as the train is moving faster than it looks and you don't hear it until it is almost on you. The snow makes a good insulator and tends to collect on both sides of the tracks making it hard to get out of the way of a moving train.
This is the kitchen that Ray built. It is a little hard to see in this light. It is pretty much a two person kitchen but making your kitchen too big just makes it colder. When making your kitchen I recommend making a bench seat for as many people as you have and make it wide enough for a closed cell foam insulating pad and then make it either high enough so it keeps your feet off of the snow or a spot for another pad to put your feet on. If you are going to be cooking a bunch it is nice to have something to stand on while at the stove. Make the counters high enough for whoever will be there the most. Also leave plenty of big, clean snow chunks for melting around the cooking area of the kitchen. It makes melting the snow a whole lot easier.
This picture is on the way out. Notice Ray's pack with the foam pad at the bottom. I believe that the only comfortable way to sleep in the snow is to use a closed cell foam pad and an inflatable one. Before you hit the sack bring a wide mouth Nalgene bottle in the sleeping bag with you filled with hot water. You might need to wrap it in something at first as it might be too hot but sleeping through cold nights is never easier than if you keep that hot water bottle in your sleeping bag with you. It also insures that you will have some water in the morning that did not freeze overnight.
The blue line is the route to Loch Leven Lakes in the summer. The green dot represents the approximate place we camped in the snow. To me it is more about building your snow structures than doing a super lengthy snow shoe trek. (especially when there is fresh powder and there are only a couple of people in your group)The blue line is about 4 miles.