Adventures, Tips and Overcoming Fears with Champion Ice and Mixed Climber Jeff Mercier

Jeff Mercier is a highly talented ice and mixed climber and works as a mountain guide and rescue instructor for the PGHM. Jeff’s climbing ability reaches across many disciplines, any of which would be impressive in itself.

He has onsighted 8a in the south of France and the epic ice of La Lyre (WI6), made the first spur-less ascent of one of the hardest mixed routes in the world, Jedi Mind Tricks (M14), climbed A3+ aid routes and countless hard and committing alpine routes.

Jeff Mercier is no stranger to the competition circuit either, winning the 2008 Ouray Ice Festival and having multiple podium finishes in ice, mixed and dry tooling events around the world.

Hey Jeff Mercier, great to chat with you and thank you for your time. Can you tell us a bit more about yourself and your background?

Hello, I am French and I am 50 years old. I am married and the father of 3 boys. I am a mountain guide but my full-time job is mountain rescue.

I have been passionate about ice climbing for over 30 years.

Jeff Mercier before the descent
Before the descent ©Christopher Shand

I like above all to be outside and to exert myself physically. I have lived on an island in Corsica for 2 years. Obviously, I continue to practice alpinism but the fact of living near the sea made me want to discover it a little better. I happily started to practice freediving.

What got you into climbing?

My uncle when I was 13.

Initially, which disciplines of climbing and mountaineering were you most interested in?

I rock climbed from 13 till 20. Then I started to learn alpinism and ice climbing. Dry tooling arrived later, at the end of the 90’s

When and why did you become fascinated with ice and dry tooling?

With ice climbing, a friend told me about his expeditions in canada and elsewhere. He made me dream with his words. At the time, I didn’t have the money to pay for the equipment.

I still had to wait 2 years before starting, I turned this frustration into motivation.

Jeff Mercier climbing in an ice cave.
Scaling the ice roof ©Christopher Shand

For dry tooling, it happened naturally. I wanted to push my limits by going to get some hanging ice cubes. climbing into the rock with ice axes opened up new horizons (it is too cold in winter to climb only with your hands).

How does competition climbing differ from climbing in the mountains?

A competition is played in a few short minutes and it is very selfish. Climbing a mountain is often several hours of effort, you have time to enjoy the beauty of the landscape, you can chat with your friend.

But what I prefer above all is that it is I who invent my challenges for myself, not another person who decides the line I will follow.

Jeff Mercier descends into the ice cave.
Jeff Mercier descends into the ice cave ©Christopher Shand

Throughout your career, have you used any other forms of training (running, gym etc) in order to improve your physical abilities when climbing?

I always wanted climbing to be a pleasure and not a constraint. I always train outside. Iorientate my practices according to the seasons. Before the dry tooling season, I do some veryphysical climbing on overhanging crags for example.

I try to run 15km once a week too, it strengthens the calves before the ice climbing season.

Do you have any kind of specific diet in order to support your climbing, health and performance in the mountains?

I come from haute-savoie, I am able to eat raclette and fondue all year round. I am careful to drink a lot of water when I am working out. In recent years, I have been doing very long mountaineering routes, I had to learn a new form of food, I was inspired by this food for long distance trail runners.

Jeff Mercier climbing over the mouth of the cave.
Over the mouth of the cave ©Christopher Shand

How much of a role does the mind play when it comes to climbing?

The mind is what allows you to move forward, to always want to go further. As I told you, I like to create my own itineraries, when it comes from the basis of your person you want to do it well.

Ice climbing with ropes
A moment of reflection ©Christopher Shand

How do you control fear and stay calm and composed during climbs?

I think only of the movement that I make, hold after hold, hand, foot, body, everything must be under control.

Black ice
Around the ice curve ©Christopher Shand

I constantly analyze the risks of falling and I look for ways to place protection points

I speak to myself a lot 🙂 “let’s go, take care……”

What advice would you offer less experienced climbers when it comes to controlling fear?

Safety first, find protection before climbing too high. If you feel safe, your mind will stay calm much more easily.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given about climbing?

Take time, the mountains will be here again tomorrow.

over the ice roof
Over the ice roof ©Christopher Shand

What 3 tips would you offer people that are looking to try ice climbing?

  1. Practice only with competent friends
  2. Take little steps with crampons, never higher than half calf
  3. 40 cm between your feet is safer and will provide you with better balance

What is important to you when it comes to planning new routes and climbs?

Know the dangers of the mountains you want to climb on the ascent but also on the descent.

Climb a line that makes you dream!

What route are you most proud of creating and climbing?

ice climbing upwards
Towards the light ©Christopher Shand

“E-logik”, Mont-blanc du tacul. I am happy because a lot of people come and climb it. It’s important for me to share.

In your view, how has dry-tooling changed winter climbing? What advantages has it brought?

The ice axe season is longer, even if the winter is not the best one of the century, you still know that you will find something to climb.

What place would you love to climb that you have not yet visited?

Alaska, South America, Kilimanjaro.

into the void ice climbing
Into the void ©Christopher Shand

Can you tell us about your work as a Mountain rescuer with the PGHM and as an IFMG Mountain Guide? What drew you to this work?

I am lucky to be in a country where mountain rescue is free, I appreciate this notion ofhelping people in difficulty. when I was younger, I wanted to do a job to help people for free.

As a guide I like to take people to places they couldn’t get without the help of anotherperson. I am proud to be that other person.

Can you give us one quote that you like?

“Progress with wisdom”.

Jeff Mercier ice climbing across wall
Skill, bravery and technique ©Christopher Shand

Where can people go to learn more about you?

My instagram is where I share my favourite moments.

Thanks so much for your time Jeff.

Learn more about the amazing Jeff Mercier on his instagram account.

Find more of Christopher Shand’s incredible photography and reporting on his website and instagram.