Makalu has two notable subsidiary peaks. Kangchungtse, or Makalu II, , lies about 3 km (2 mi) north-northwest of the main summit. Rising about north-northeast of the main summit across a broad plateau, and connected to Kangchungtse by a narrow, 7,200 m saddle, is Chomo Lonzo, .
Makalu was first climbed on May 15, 1955 by Lionel Terray and Jean Couzy of a French expedition led by Jean Franco. Franco, G. Magnone and Sirdar Gyaltsen Norbu summitted the next day, followed by Bouvier, S. Coupe, Leroux and A. Vialatte on the 17th. The French team climbed Makalu by the north face and northeast ridge, via the saddle between Makalu and Kangchungtse (the Makalu-La), establishing the standard route.
The first ascent of the southeast ridge route attempted by the Americans was made by Y. Ozaki and A. Tanaka from a Japanese expedition on May 23, 1970. The very technical West Pillar route was climbed in May, 1971 by Frenchmen B. Mellet and Y. Seigneur.. The second ascent of the West Pillar was completed in May, 1980 by John Roskelley (summit), Chris Kopczynski, James States and Kim Momb, without Sherpa support and without bottled oxygen.
Makalu is one of the harder eight-thousanders, and is considered one of the most difficult mountains in the world to climb. The mountain is notorious for its steep pitches and knife-edged ridges that are completely open to the elements. The final ascent of the summit pyramid involves technical rock climbing. Makalu is the only Nepalese 8,000 m peak which has yet to be climbed in true winter conditions.