Climbing 300-Foot Limestone Spires in the World’s Largest Stone Forest

Climbing Tsingy de Bemaraha, Madagascar
Marsel Van Oosten

Three hundred miles off the southeast coast of Africa sits Madagascar, a 226,700 square-mile island nation famous for its rare flora and fauna—about 90 percent of which exists nowhere else in the world. Less well-known is the fact that the island is also home to one-of-a-kind rock formations, including the world’s largest stone forest, a 300-square-mile expanse of vertical spikes that tower 300 feet in the air.

The jagged peaks are located in the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, a remote spot that takes a 10-hour, 120-mile journey down dirt roads to reach.

The word tsingy, as the limestone spires are known locally, is derived from a Malagasy word meaning “to walk on tiptoes” or “where one cannot walk barefoot.” Which is fitting, says the Dutch photographer Marsel van Oosten, since the formations are so sharp that it’s “impossible to walk on 99 percent [of them].”

He’s one to know. Last year, van Oosten photographed Olivier Guerpillon (above), a French climber, as he scaled the stone forest.

“It was just as exciting for him as it was for me,” says van Oosten, who left the most rigorous climbs to the pro. “Well, a bit more exciting for him, perhaps; it was quite dangerous.”

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