Almost Extreme ChaXi – Seneca Rocks

Another Climbing Adventure!

My friend, roommate, and climbing partner, the ineffable Andreas and I spent the first half of Thanksgiving Break climbing Seneca Rocks in West Virginia. It was awesome. Unsurprisingly for the end of November, it was also cold!

Seneca is far more wild than the lovely Gunks, filled with large unbroken faces, steep overhanging crack systems, and a never ending supply of loose rocks to rain down on your belayer.

We survived on campfire food, artisan beer, and home made Bacon Bars.
Yes, that is pureed bacon with nuts and honey… they pack the caloric punch we need for 3 8 hour days of climbing.

Nothing gets the blood pumping like super sketch trad, and yet, for the first time, I finally felt I was secure in my climbing even while pushing my own limits; that’s not to say I was climbing beyond my level in the past, but that my ‘lead-head’ as climbers call it was screwed on tight the entire trip this time. That’s a great feeling!

There’s less daylight for climbing in winter, and because of the nature of the sport, we need to wait till later in the day to begin climbing in winter. Clinging for your life on a mass of cold rock slowly (not so slowly) sucking the warmth and life out of you isn’t fun. We had to wait until the sun had been up for ~3 hours before hiking in.

That gave us a perfect opportunity to ChaXi! I brewed a really nice roasted Taiwanese Oolong from ShanLinShi I picked up in Taiwan this summer on the helipad in the shadow of our mountain. It was beautiful and physically warming.

It took us all 3 days before we reached the summit.
I hope it won’t be my last time on it.

– Jason

Update Dec 22nd:
hover text on the photos now working again!

ChaXi at Poe Paddy State Park

While Pennsylvania may have a low Okapi Count, making it difficult for me to find proper Kosher stakes, the state has a un-surprising glut of beautiful and well kept secrets. Just when Asia started to wear off of my mind, and as I was starting to think State College sits in the middle of nowhere, we drive out to Poe Paddy State Park to brew some tea… Right in the middle of the park, is a spat of private property where people have their homes. Now that’s the middle of nowhere.

Back to the reason you came…
Our group of tea lovers and our new friend Kira (a blossoming tea lover), were in dire need of ChaXi. A drive that took far to long at 10 mph through 2 extra state parks, broken only by the excitement of Car Surfing left us off on a trail of 2 choices; mountain side or river side?

Decision made, we down climbed the bridge built on top of railroad trestles. I used my travel Set and the jet boil to make the Korean Green Tea members of the Institute hand processed with Master Hyo-am on his farm in Gurye this summer.

The flowing river, a setting sun soaked backdrop of shimmering fall leaves, green tea and the sound of water boiling matched with the real wind through the pines; enlightenment was not far off. We brewed till nightfall, conversation flowing, and minds almost clear.

The night still young, we had dinner, craft beer, with a side of live music at Elk Creek in the tiny town of Millheim. It rounded out the days experience. Between niche Nietzsche jokes, travel stories, and a fair bit of bravado all around, dancing to real music (made with actual instruments, which is depressingly rare among students) with a beer in hand, was exactly what the weekend called for.

I’m making ChaXi into a lifestyle.

– Jason

Sourcing Water with a ChaXi

What water you use to brew your tea has a huge effect on its flavor, as has been repeated ad nauseum in books and blogs as a source of wisdom, improvement, and importance.

And it does.

Spring water isn’t magical (so they say), but a proper balance of minerality, ph, and provenance makes a huge difference to the quality of our favorite leafy infusion.

So it should come as no surprise that the Tea Institute sources our own water from near by Roaring Spring, PA. Once (soon to be twice) a semester, a group of our intrepid researchers and artists ventures out to fill ~100 gallons of water. That’s half a ton if you’re keeping count. The Institute will use that in about a month and a half; not a very water intensive operation really, untill you think we’re ingesting the great majority of it!

Most of that water is simply stored and boiled with active bamboo charcoal from Taiwan. Our tetsubans give the water a slight sweetness (free iron cations bind with calcium which activates sweet receptors… so ghost sweetness… kinda…) and a more present clean mouth feel.

A small portion of our water is put into ageing jars for salt-ion exchange experiments; the aged water is amazingly light and airy. We can only age about 2 gallons at a time, and our current batch has been ageing for more than 4 months!
This is only used for the most special of tea!

Driving out to the spring one fine summer day, we made ChaXi in view of the spring and old paper factory that still bears the towns name.

We boiled the spring water with 3 pieces of our LongYan Charcoal, the aroma filled the air as we carried the jugs back to the car. With only a little too much work, the water was boiling in about 40 Minutes. Most of that time was simply getting the super dense charcoal lit! (it really just requires a blow torch a’la Stéphane Erler)

The ChaXi had a simple branch warped with a string of late bloom flowers, and I used my white porcelain travel set on wooden blocks set atop large green leaves. We brewed our ‘palace grade Dian Hong’ for such a event.

I would call this a success, but I’m still at 0 Okapi’s for Pennsylvania.
Looks like I need to step up my tracking game.

– Jason

Extreme ChaXi: Climbing at the Gunks

What does it mean to be a climber? What does it mean to accept and face the risk inherit to scaling walls of stone that normal human beings would wisely not tread near (least cling to)?

Does it mean you’re cool or brave?
Does it mean you’re young and foolish?
Does it mean you’re wild and rebellious?

Andreas, my close friend and climbing partner at Penn State, and I are very different people, and we climb for very different and personal reasons.

I climb because I am afraid. Afraid of falling, afraid of equipment breaking, afraid of leading badly. Like most, I have a strong sentiment for self-preservation. climbs that are long, hard, and strenuous scare me. So I seek them out to climb.

In climbing I conquer fear. As fearful as I may be on the inside before the climb, once I touch the first hold my mind goes silent. I am zen.

Climbing is all focusing. 3 pitches up and off rout on a run-out Gunks style sandbag, any mistake can be deadly. I know that. I have to know that. Yet, if I was to let that affect me, if I was to quiver at the precarious perch I so finely rest on,  if I was to loose the stillness and fluid motion of ‘the moment’ or ‘the zone’ or ‘the zen’ or ‘the screaming silence’, whatever you call it when you personally commit and move and trust, it would only making falling (and all of its consequences) definite.

Instead, through climbing, I am alive. Fear has no hold on me. My mind is still, my moments precise, and my motivation personal. I climb for no one. I climb to live.

How does this relate to tea ceremony? How does this relate to GongFu?

Tea takes many forms for me; I teach it, I study with it, I drink far more of it than I should (maybe).

Yet my most precious moments with tea, the moments that keep me coming back to tea ceremony, after all the learning, and after all the knowledge that lets me appreciated it, are the moments of beauty that shine through the sessions of meditative contemplation.

Sometimes its the tea.
Sometimes its the setting.
Sometimes its the company.

But it is always the same type of feeling.

 

And through climbing, I can feel those same moments of pure beauty.

So I did them together. Extreme Chaxi.

And it was Beautiful.

 

The ChaXi was simple, held to the slop at the top of the climb by stones, the tea a roasted oolong, and the wares carried with us in the pack.

The shadows of the mountains and trees shimmered below, rolling hills of upstate New York, while the featured cliffs of the ‘traps’ ran through our vision.

Sitting on the ledge, still tied in, and sipping tea before our descent, a day of climbing still ahead of us, this was the most extreme chaxi yet.

 

Go find your zen. It will be beautiful.

 

– Jason