Makalu and Kanchenjunga both situated in the far east of Nepal. Kanchenjunga (8,586m) is the world third highest peak and Makalu is the fifth highest mountain in the world at 8,485m (27,838 ft). It is located in the Mahalangur Himalayas 19 km (12 mi) southeast of Mount Everest, on the border between Nepal and Tibet, China. One of the eight-thousanders, Makalu is an isolated peak whose shape is a four-sided pyramid. Makalu has two notable subsidiary peaks. Kangchungtse or Makalu II (7,678 m) lies about 3 km (2 mi) north-northwest of the main summit. Rising about 5 km (3.1 mi) north-northeast of the main summit across a broad plateau, and connected to Kangchungtse by a narrow, 7,200 m saddle, is Chomo Lonzo (7,804 m).
The first climb on Makalu was made by an American team led by Riley Keegan in the spring of 1954. The expedition was composed of Sierra Club members including Allen Steck and was called the California Himalayan Expedition to Makalu. They attempted the southeast ridge but were turned back at 7,100 m (23,300 ft) by a constant barrage of storms. A New Zealand team including Sir Edmund Hillary 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 (October 22: Jean Franco, Lionel Terray, sirdar Gyalzen Norbu Sherpa and Pa Norbu) and Chomo Lonzo (October 30?: Jean Couzy and Terray).
Makalu was first summited on May 15, 1955, by Lionel Terray and Jean Couzy of a French expedition led by Jean Franco. Franco, Guido Magnone, and Gyalzen Norbu Sherpa submitted the next day, followed by Jean Bouvier, Serge Coupé, Pierre Leroux and André Vialatte on the 17th. This was an amazing achievement at the time, to have the vast majority of expedition members summit, especially on such a difficult peak. Prior to this time, summits were reached by one to two expedition members at most, with the rest of the teams providing logistical support before turning around and heading home. 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.