Makalu is with 8462 metres the fifth highest mountain in the world and is located 22 km (14 mi) east of Mount Everest (map). Its name means "The Great Black". It is a four-faced pyramid, with a secondary peak - Kangchungtse or Makalu II (7678 m) - separated from the main summit by a narrow saddle, known as Makalu La.
Makalu was first climbed on May 15, 1955 by Lionel Terray and Jean Couzy of a French expedition led by Jean Franco, after the team's first attempt failed in 1954. 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 first solo of Makalu was made in 1980. American John Roskelley’s other team members aborted their expedition due to lack of high altitude porters. But Roskelley refused to leave. Left alone, he completed the first repetition of the West Pillar. In 1982, Polish climber Czok soloed the West face-NW ridge. In 1989, Pierre Beghin soloed the South face.
On January 27, 2006, the French mountaineer Jean-Christophe Lafaille disappeared on Makalu while trying to make the first winter ascent. Lafaille, who had at that point already summited 11 8000ers, was attempting Makalu the hardest way: Solo and in winter.