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February 2019 Issue
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An ultra like no other

Anthony Marra won a scholarship to adventure in New Zealand
American Anthony Marra is riding, surfing, climbing and skiing his way down the country, all in the name of a prominent US climber.

One day last winter, a man was seen running across Whakapapa Col wearing ski touring boots and carrying a wealth of gear. We hailed him to find out what he was doing and discovered he’s a winner of the Kyle Dempster scholarship, awarded to keen solo adventurers. (Dempster went missing on a climb in Pakistan in 2016; he was widely known for a short film, The Road From Karakol, which documented a solo biking and climbing trip across Kyrgyzstan in 2011.)

Anthony Marra, the running madman, was using his scholarship to travel from Cape Reinga to Bluff, climbing and skiing every ‘ultra-prominent’ peak in the country using only human-power transport, and surfing after every climb.

Sound huge? It is.

Anthony says it’s incredibly special to be adventuring in the name of someone as hard-charging as Kyle Dempster.

“Kyle inspired me to think outside the box, make my own adventures and pursue my dreams. It sounds cliche, but his philosophy on adventure was a spark for me.”

Going after ‘ultra-prominent’ peaks means Anthony is climbing mountains with more than 1500m of prominence, i.e. the measurement of the height of the mountain relative to the surrounding terrain. Ten peaks qualify, including Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt Ruapehu. “There’s also a few obscure peaks off most people’s radar, Mt Taylor or Manakau for example,” Marra says. “It’s been a great way to focus on an objective and see some incredible mountains. After each ski descent, I plan to surf when it makes sense. Each peak becomes a surf-to-ski undertaking.”

It’s been tough to adapt to
the New Zealand environment – the weather,
the topography – New Zealand is
rugged country

And as it’s a human-powered adventure, Anthony is only using his feet and a bike, which is about 70kg with four panniers and a customised trailer to tow his skis, surfboard and climbing gear. “It adds so much adventure and flavour. It increases exposure to the environment and its inhabitants – there are just so many great experiences I would have missed out on if I was boxed in a car the entire approach.”

Marra, who trained for his adventure by cycling from Canada to Mexico, says it’s been tough to adapt to the New Zealand environment. “The weather can be challenging here, the topography is much different, and the treeline is low – I was expecting this to make the approaches easier, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. New Zealand is rugged country.”

So far, skiing off the summits of the highest peaks in the Inland and Seaward Kaikoura ranges has been a highlight. “The effort-to-ski ratio was horrendous, but those first turns felt like a dream.”

And he says he’s clocking up some amazing memories. “I can’t wait to look back on it all with extreme satisfaction of a once in a lifetime experience.”