By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal plans to name two Himalayan peaks after pioneering Mount Everest climbers Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, a senior hiking official said, in a move designed to boost tourism in the beautiful but desperately poor country.
New Zealander Hillary and his Nepali guide Tenzing made it to the 8,850-metre (29,035-foot) summit of the world's highest mountain on May 29, 1953 as part of a British expedition, which put Nepal on the map as a destination for adventure tourism.
A government panel has recommended that two unnamed mountains be called Hillary Peak and Tenzing Peak, said Ang Tshering Sherpa, a former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.
"This is to honour their contribution to mountaineering in Nepal," Sherpa, who headed the panel, told Reuters.
The two peaks - Hillary's at 7,681 m (25,200 ft) and Tenzing's at 7,916 m (25,971 ft) - have never been climbed and are expected to be opened to foreigners in the spring season that starts in March, he said.
Officials hope the peaks will attract more climbers and help boost tourism in Nepal, home to eight of the world's 14 highest mountains. Tourism now accounts for about 4 percent of the country's economy and employs thousands of people.
Hillary died in 2008 at age 88 and Tenzing died in 1986 at age 72. Climbers in their time lacked the specialised equipment taken for granted today and the heavy oxygen tanks the two men carried made mountaineering more challenging than it is now.
About 4,000 climbers have made it to the summit of Everest since 1953, among them an 80-year-old Japanese man, an American teenager and a blind person. Two Nepali sherpas have reached the top a record 21 times each.
But harsh weather, avalanches and treacherous terrain are constant dangers. More than 240 climbers have died on both sides of Everest, which can also be scaled from China.
A small airport Hillary built in the 1960s at Lukla, the gateway to Everest, has already been named after him and Tenzing. The remote airstrip clings to a hillside, several days' walk from the base camp, and is described by mountaineers as a thrilling kick-off to an attempt on the mountain's south face.
Besides conservation work, Hillary helped build schools, hospitals, water supply schemes and trails in the Everest region that is home to the ethnic sherpas without whose help climbers would find it difficult to make it to the top.
Two peaks in west Nepal could be named after famed French climbers Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal, said Sherpa. In 1950, Herzog and Lachenal became the first to reach the summit of an 8,000-m (26,246-ft) peak - Mount Annapurna.
About 165 peaks of up to 7,999 m (26,245 ft) are likely to be opened to climbers from next year, Sherpa said.
Just 326 of the more than 1,300 peaks in Nepal are now open to foreign climbers. The fees they pay are a major source of income for the cash-strapped government.
(Editing by John O'Callaghan and Clarence Fernandez)