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It all started as she gazed into her daughter’s eyes. For the first time, Audrey Borisov felt the power that comes with a biological tie; after all, Borisov was adopted as a baby.
So began a woman’s ambitious journey in search of her birth parents – both of whom, she ultimately learned, were members of Bruin Mountaineers, a club that existed at UCLA during the 1950s to 1970s.
Borisov said that when she began her search, she could not have foreseen the influence the Bruin Mountaineers community would have on her life, or that she would be accepted into the community that played such a vital role in her history.
In fact, she was hesitant to begin any search at all for her parents, believing that what her mother had done was a difficult and courageous thing.
“I didn’t really want to disrupt her life and bring back what were probably really difficult and sad memories for her,” Borisov said. “I wanted to be really respectful of that.”
However, after her daughter was born, Borisov realized she needed to learn more about her own background.
Armed with only her mother’s name, Sheila Ann Schaeffer, Borisov scoured the internet with no luck until she came across a woman with that name in the 1969 UCLA yearbook and noticed that their resemblance was uncanny. A year later, she found reports of an Ann Schaeffer living in Anchorage, Alaska – the very city Borisov was born in.
In the winter of 2011, Borisov found the courage to send her birth mother a letter letting her know her daughter was doing well and thanking her for having the courage to put her up for adoption.
“If February 25, 1970 has any meaning to you, open this letter,” she wrote on the envelope addressed to Schaeffer.
A couple months passed and Borisov stopped expecting a response. It was then she decided to search for Schaeffer on the Internet one last time. She was shocked to find a police report stating that Schaeffer was found dead of natural causes a few weeks prior.
“I will never know if she ever received my letter,” Borisov said.
With the passing of her mother, Borisov feared that any connection with her father would also be gone. She began to actively search for him with limited information – she knew that he had blonde hair, blue eyes and, like her mother, was a mountaineer.
Searching for her father proved to be a challenge. It wasn’t until she added UCLA to the search parameters that she came across the Bruin Mountaineers forum on the SuperTopo rock climbing website.
In reading the Bruin Mountaineers’ stories, Borisov could not help but feel an uncanny connection to a certain climber with strikingly similar characteristics to hers: They both detested physics and were both considered to be weird – Borisov said she was nicknamed “Odd” in high school.
“What are the chances of figuring out who your birth father was by reading a bunch of stories and thinking this person is way too much like me to not be my father?” Borisov said.
She called the agency that facilitated her adoption, gave them the name of the climber in question and was in utter shock when they confirmed that William/Bill “Dolt” Feuerer – the very man whose climbing stories made her burst out laughing – was in fact her birth father.
With this knowledge in hand, she started trying to figure out how her parents had met. In looking through SuperTopo’s website, she came across a story entitled “Traffic Diversion” from 1969.
The story detailed how, on April Fools’ Day, Bruin Mountaineers members had used a few construction cones and forced traffic on Topanga Canyon Boulevard to take an alternate route up Stoney Point, a trail commonly used by the Bruin Mountaineers.
Borisov suspected she might have found yet another connection to her family, as her mother was a member of the club during that time, and decided to contact the Bruin Mountaineers.
“I really just wanted to learn about my birth parents and see if I could figure out what they were like together, if I was like one or the other, just anything like that,” Borisov said.
Former club president Ken Boche was the spark that helped Borisov get in contact with other Bruin Mountaineers who knew her mother.
At the same time, she discovered that he had also known her birth father, Feuerer, who had passed away about a year after she was born.
“I was one of the only people who knew both of her birth parents,” Boche said.
Boche and many other Bruin Mountaineers shared with Borisov stories of her mother and father’s adventures, which she called “incredible.”
Not only did she learn about her mother’s adventures as a Bruin Mountaineer, but she was able to read email conversations Schaeffer exchanged with her friends from the Bruin Mountaineers.
“Several of them forwarded me excerpted emails over the years, so I could get a context of who my mother was,” Borisov said.
“It’s really incredible because it was different than telling a story. It’s written in first person where she talked about the time she spent (abroad).”
She uncovered more about her parents than she ever thought she would.
“It’s wonderful that they were so accepting and so willing to share their experiences with her,” said Ruth Stadnik, former Bruin Mountaineer and a friend of Schaeffer’s. “To me, it’s just a miraculous community.”
In trying to find out more about her birth parents, Borisov has inadvertently become a part of the mountaineering community.
Her involvement began when she volunteered to transcribe the “Occasional Miseries” newsletter, which helped her understand the world her parents came from.
Borisov had no idea how much of an impact the Bruin Mountaineers would have on her life and the part she would play in bringing the Bruin Mountaineers closer together.
It was not long before she started taking up climbing and general mountaineering, bringing her daughter, Camila, along for the ride. Borisov and Camila attended the Yosemite Facelift in September 2012 with some Bruin Mountaineers alumni, including Boche, Stadnik and members of the Yosemite Climbing Association.
“She bought a bunch of climbing gear and her daughter is wanting to go climbing,” Boche said. “Audrey’s got her daughter’s room decorated with all sorts of memorabilia of (Feuerer’s) and now it’s trickled down so that general climbing has become a real focus in both of their lives.”
Borisov had always been an adrenaline junkie – enjoying hiking, swimming, and other active hobbies. After realizing that both of her parents were mountaineers, she said her interests made sense.
“I’ve been taken up into the weft of their fabric. (The Bruin Mountaineers have) welcomed me and adopted me into their tribe, like I’ve always been there,” Borisov said.
“It’s incredible to me the connections they still have to one another, some 40 years later.”
Correction: On April Fools’ Day, Bruin Mountaineers members used a few construction cones and forced traffic on Topanga Canyon Boulevard to take an alternate route up Stoney Point, a trail commonly used by the Bruin Mountaineers.