49er coach's wife reaches heights, too

Sunday, Nov. 13, 1994

By John Crumpacker
San Francisco Examiner

LOS ALTOS, Calif. - After scaling 19,340-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro without so much as a blister, Linda Seifert came home and promptly bashed her toe on a brick step in the back yard.

Just a little reminder that humility is often right around the corner from triumph.

While her husband, George, climbs metaphorical mountains every week as coach of the San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, the Mt. Everest of football teams, the Dallas Cowboys) Linda is more literal in her ascents.

Her conquests include Mt. Whitney (14,496 feet), Japan's Mt. Fuji (12,329), Yosemite's Half Dome (many times) and now the highest peak in Africa, Kilimanjaro. Along with two guides and 30 porters, she and six other Americans reached Uhuru Peak on Oct. 15, flushed with victory and chilled by icy winds whipping across the glacier fields.

"It was so cold and windy," she said. "The celebration we did was quick-`Here, take my picture.' The wind would just bite through you. We only spent 20 minutes on top, which was sad because you spend six days getting there."

Tanzania's Kilimanjaro was a series of challenges in the form of jungles, forests, lava beds, glaciers and wind and rain and snow, all washed down with water culled from stagnant pools and then purified.

Wrapped in polypropylene and Gore-Tex, Linda Seifert was a woman equal to the challenge. Trim and athletic at 50, the mother of two is a lifelong hiker with a devotion, bordering on the reverent, to Yosemite and the Sierras.

"I feel very emotional about our Sierras," she said. "I love Yosemite. I'm a Sierra nut. I've done a lot of hiking in the Sierra. I did some climbing up there with my brother a couple weeks before I left."

Despite her hiking background, she said she would not have attempted either Fuji or Kilimanjaro had it not been for family friends Dr. Brack Davis and his wife, Joann. Davis, a retired orthopedic surgeon, worked with the 49ers at their Sierra College training camp and accompanied the team to Tokyo in July 1989 for its game against the Rams. At breakfast one morning, the Davises suggested a little hike.

"I didn't even bring a pair of tennis shoes on that trip," Linda Seifert said. "I went to Bronco (equipment manager Bronco Hinek), and he outfitted me with the smallest pair of shoes he had, which were way too big, but I stuffed them with socks. We made that climb-unprepared. That's how I got myself into this. I guess it was one of those open mouth, insert foot things. We've been planning this for a long time."

Logistical planning is one thing, but there's just no way to prepare a sea-level body for life at 19,000 feet. The preparation is in the doing, and gradually so. In the six-day trek up the mountain, the party camped at 9,000 feet, 11,500, 12,300, 14,800, 16,000 and finally 18,000 feet in the bed of a crater before the final lung-buster to 19,340.

"They acclimatized us real well," she said. "We took our time going up. It was six days going up and one coming down. By the time we got to 18,000 feet, if you weren't acclimated by then, you're not going to make it. But all of us were."

Seifert's group of seven, with Tanzanian guide Allan Phillemon at the point, set out on the Shira Plateau route along the Western Breech of the mountain.

The trip started in the jungle with a ranger from Mt. Kilimanjaro National Park at the point, rifle in hand. There's nothing like a malevolent baboon to spoil a nice vacation. Then, too, there were poachers about, a group of whom dropped an illegal quarry of antelope and ran, lest they be shot on sight for the depredation of protected wildlife.

"Our guide used a harmonica to let animals know we were there," Seifert said. "We thought he was serenading us."

As it developed, the threat came not from large animals but from the insect kingdom. "We all wore gaiters because of safari ants. You stop and they swarm your feet in seconds. They get up into your boots and leggings and they bite. Our guards said the ants have been known to bring down an elephant."

During the day, clouds and fog largely obscured the object of their desire. At night, however, hikers were greeted by the spectacular sight of moonlight bouncing off the glacier, illuminating all.

"At night it was beautiful to see the mountain glowing in the moonlight,' she said. While her husband's team was winning three straight games on the other side of the world, Linda Seifert was into Africa, whether challenging the continent's highest peak or later jouncing across the savanna on a photo safari.

She visited a Masai village in Tanzania and came away with a tribesman's spear as a souvenir. Her superstitious husband, noting the 49ers had won three in a row while she was away, quipped, "She was visiting with a fellow who had seven wives and 40 children. I'll send her back there and make it No. 8."

Her trip ended with the nocturnal call of yellow-eyed hyenas on the periphery of her safari camp, wails from another world. Three weeks the guest, it was time to come home. "It was definitely a highlight of my life," she said. "I feel so good about having done this. I'll probably never do it again. Some places are better done once."


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