Winter does not arrive neatly with the solstice. I took this hike in the northeast Catskills on Dec. 11. If the air had been soft and the forest carpeted in copper leaves, I would have been happy to call it — as astronomically I should — a late-fall hike. But the air stung and the Catskills were covered in powdery snow, and the hike was my first winter outing of the season.
I hadn’t intended it to be so. I planned my outing long before our first snowfall appeared in the forecast. What I wanted was to climb a mountain, and copper leaves underfoot would have suited just fine. What mattered was the mountain, and that simplest kind of hike that a mountain offers — up, admire the view, down. I chose the Catskills because they are our nearest big, wild mountains.