Makalu, at 8475m the fifth highest mountain in the world, rises high above the main Himalayan mountain chain.
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In 1884 the Survey of India topographers named the mountain "Khamba Lung an", a name linked to the Khamba region in Tibet. The mountain was renamed Makalu only after several exploratory expeditions to the area.
To date the meaning of this name remains unclear, but the most probable hypothesis is that it is a mutation of Maha kala (deceased God), an appeal to the Hindu Divinity Shiva for whom for the Tibetans Makalu represents the throne.
A literal translation of the Sanskrit "Maha kala" (solemn weather) indicates the God who controls the weather. Tibetan literature attributes the meaning to "the Great Black One", referring to the colour of the mountain's rock. Another meaning could be connected to the neighbouring valleys to the north. In 1921 Mallory in one of his guides talks about two summits, Everest and Makalu.
The Makalu La pass separates Makalu from Kangchuntse, while to the south it separates the South Col from the low but significant crest that rises up from the Arun Valley. Two short crests leave to the west into the Sakyetan valley and to the east into the Barun valley. There are two secondary summits besides Makalu's main summit, namely Makalu SE and Makalu Shar.
The first ascent of Makalu dates back to May 1955, when a strong French expedition reached the summit after having been forced to turn back the previous year after having reached 7800m. Lionel Terray and Jean Couzy summited on 15 May, J. Franco, G. Magnone and the Sherpa Gyalzen summited the following day and J. Bouvier, S. Coupè, P. Leroux and A. Vialatte summited on 17 May. For the first time in Himalayan history all members of an expedition reached the summit.
The first Italian expedition to successfully climb Makalu dates back to October 1985. The expedition was composed of Sergio Martini, Fabio Stedile, Fausto De Stefani and Almo Giambisi.
by Marco Benedetti