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Brother and friend help Brad Hart, who is nearly blind, climb almost to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro

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Brad Hart (who is nearly blind from retinitis pigments), with his brother Brian Hart and childhood friend, Kirk Parry, helped raise $40,000 by participating Climb for Sight trip. Read about his experience in this article written by Janice Crompton for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Article written by Janice Crompton / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Read this on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website

They prepared for months, working out verbal cues while scaling the Rocky Mountains in Denver and flying up and down the 36 flights of steps at the University of Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning with 40-pound packs strapped on their backs.

They had the best of intentions too: Helping Brad Hart see the sunrise over Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania before he becomes blind.

All went as planned. But there was one thing Mr. Hart's older brother, Brian Hart, of Washington, and their childhood friend, Kirk Parry, of Buffalo, Wyo., didn't account for: Shadows.

Brian Hart's only goal this year was getting his 38-year-old brother, Brad, to the summit of Africa's highest peak before a degenerative eye disorder, retinitis pigmentosa, stole his sight completely.

And the trio largely succeeded, climbing to 16,000 feet -- about 3,000 feet short of the summit -- in eight days during early August.

Brian Hart, a 39-year-old civil engineer for the state Department of Transportation and father of two, and Mr. Parry were experienced climbers and had prepared to assist Brad Hart in getting through some of the dicier portions of the climb.

But they realized almost immediately that Brad Hart, a school principal in Reading, would need help with just about every step he took because deep shadows obscured nearly all of his vision.

Even when Brad Hart's own shadow wasn't diminishing his sight, shadows from the other men were preventing him from seeing obstacles in front of him.

"He uses contrast to see," Brian Hart said of his brother. "And being so close to the equator, every step he took he was stepping into someone's shadow."

The younger Mr. Hart was diagnosed with the eye disorder at the age of 14 and is nearly blind, with just 5 percent of his vision left. Doctors have told him he will likely lose his eyesight within the next several years.

The unexpected challenge cost the men valuable time during the climb, and the constant visual strain caused severe headaches for Brad Hart.

"We called out every step he took for over 50 miles," Brian Hart said. "It wasn't easy."

Add to that the temperatures, which ranged from tropical to arctic, along with scrambling by hand over steep rocks and traversing a 750-foot vertical wall one day, and it was amazing that the men made it as far as they did.

"It was really challenging," Brian Hart said. "My brother did really great on that wall."

During the last day of the climb, the men left base camp at midnight and trekked as far as they could for six hours, until the sun rose over a blanket of clouds.

"It was like heaven," Brian Hart remembered.

None of them had ever climbed as high as they did that day, and the sense of accomplishment was overwhelming, Brian Hart said.

A local equivalent would be climbing to the summit of Chestnut Ridge in the Laurel Highlands in Fayette County about a dozen times.

"It was more gratifying to be together at 16,000 feet than on the summit with someone else," he said.

The trio also raised $40,000 for the Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity of Pennsylvania, a nonprofit humanitarian organization dedicated to reducing avoidable blindness in developing countries.

The organization sponsors the annual Kilimanjaro Climb for Sight fundraiser to combat childhood blindness.

Mr. Parry and Brian Hart decided to participate in the climb in January, after they hiked Mount Rainier in Washington and heard about the annual VOSH/PA fundraiser.

Brian Hart said the climb was one of the major accomplishments in his life.

"It wasn't about the summit, it was about the journey," he said. "We got out of our comfort zone and did something that we'll always remember."

The men have been maintaining a blog, which includes videos and photos, at www.act-2009.blogspot.com.

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