Makalu has two notable subsidiary peaks. Kangchungtse, or Makalu II, , lies about 3 km 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 , is Chomo Lonzo, .
The first attempt on Makalu was made by an team led by William Siri in the spring of 1954. They attempted the southeast ridge but were turned back at 7,100 m by a constant barrage of storms. A New Zealand team including was also active in the spring, but did not get very high due to injury and illness. In the fall of 1954, a French reconnaissance expedition made the first ascents of the subsidiary summits Kangchungtse and Chomo Lonzo .
Makalu was first climbed on May 15, 1955 by Lionel Terray and Jean Couzy of a 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 , establishing the standard route.
On or about January 27, 2006, the French mountaineer Jean-Christophe Lafaille disappeared on Makalu while trying to make the first winter ascent.
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.