Speaking of statistical improbabilities...


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Trad climber
Topic Author's Original Post - May 5, 2012 - 08:01pm PT
Haaaaa...soooooo...my shyness is getting the better of me, and I'm having trouble getting started here, but here it goes.

I always knew that I was adopted -- my parents adopted me in Anchorage, AK shortly after I was born in February 1970 -- they explained to me that my mother knew she was too young to raise me and wanted me to go to a good family. For nearly my entire life, I felt that my birth mom had done something so incredibly selfless (that had to have been unbelievably difficult), that I wanted to respect her privacy. That all changed when I had my daughter a couple of years ago, and I realized the enormity of what she had done for me. I needed to thank her.

I obtained my original birth certificate and learned my birth mom's name: Sheila Ann Schaeffer. From there I spent countless hours relentlessly researching her genealogy on ancestry.com, and after a number of months, happened across her graduation picture in the 1969 UCLA yearbook online. (They're all available for free viewing at Archive.org.) I think it was nearly a year of researching later that it occurred to me that she might have started going by her middle name instead of her first name. I found references to an Ann Schaeffer in towns around Anchorage, and finally got my courage up to send her a letter in late December of last year. I wanted her to know that I was doing well, that she had a granddaughter and that I was so grateful for what she had done for me.

Then one night seven weeks ago, I discovered an Alaska State Police report online that said that Ann had died suddenly at home on February 20th and that next of kin had been notified. I read the report, and then read it again. I shut down the search, and then did it again, hoping the report wouldn't reappear. But it did resurface, and it was real. I couldn't breathe. I spent the next several days struggling with reality and in complete disbelief.

Fortunately, my career training finally kicked in and I switched into information recovery mode. I contacted the Alaska State Police and was able to persuade them to confirm that the location of her next of kin (I provided the state). An amazing "Search Angel" helped me by making the first call to her younger sister (I would have just sobbed). Since we first talked, we've been making up for lost time. Apparently, Ann had followed my life for a long time, but had lost track at some point (likely when my parents stopped writing to Catholic Charities when I got older). Her sister told me that she used to send Ann a Mother's Day card every year. How stupid I feel now, for not having the courage to reach out to her sooner. (We don't know if my letter ever reached her.)

Her sister sent me this picture, which I now keep with me wherever I go:

It was just three weeks ago that I happened upon BooDawg's post about the Mountaineers' 1969 April Fools Day prank, and I almost couldn't believe that I might have found another connection to her. I hoped I might have, but figured that that would have been just too lucky.

Here's why.

Less than a year ago, I stumbled upon the SuperTopo website while trying to figure out who my birth father was. There was no information on my birth certificate, and Catholic Charities only releases "non-identifying" information to adoptees, so I had a limited number of descriptive characteristics I could use as tools. My birth father was an aerospace engineer (non-degreed), a mountaineer (like my birth mom), had dark blonde hair and blue eyes, both of his parents were from Germany and he was older than my birth mom. Using just these criteria didn't lead anywhere, until I happened to throw "UCLA" into the mix, and up popped a SuperTopo forum discussion on early Yosemite climbing. (Thank you, DEE EE!)

I started reading and almost fell out of my chair (partly in utter SHOCK, and partly because I was laughing really hard!). Here were these stories about this character with qualities eerily similar to my own (my nickname with close friends has always been "Odd" and AP physics in high school was my absolute nemesis). The more I read, the more I suspected he might have been my birth father, but I also figured I was probably grasping at straws and possibly also becoming a little bit unhinged thinking that this person that I found out of nowhere online might have been my birth father. It wasn't until I found out that Ann had passed away that I was able to persuade Catholic Charities to help me -- they were willing to confirm or deny if I provided a name. You can imagine how stunned I was when they provided confirmation that William Andreas Feuerer actually was my birth father.

Now what the heck was I going to do? I couldn't imagine calling someone up and saying, "Hello...", because I hadn't the slightest idea what to say next. But I somehow managed to dial Ken Yager's number and squeak out a voice message. He promptly called me right back, and was so friendly that I didn't have a chance to be nervous. The next thing I knew, I had a list of folks that he recommended I contact to learn more about Bill. Thank you so much, Ken!

Many thanks also to Glen Denny, Roger Derryberry, Steve Grossman, Al Steck, Royal Robbins, Joe Fitchen, Tom Frost, Norma Limp, Don Lauria, George Whitmore, Wayne Merry, Ihateplastic and Tobia, for being willing to listen to my story, sharing and helping me along my way. I still have so many folks to reach out to, and so much to learn; I'm really just getting started. (Yes, I'm still struggling with being shy.)

At the same time, I was starting to think that learning more about Ann was going to be lost to me due to her passing before I could make contact with her, and then here was BooDawg, who, for the last several weeks (heading into his busy season), has tirelessly (!) spearheaded the effort to put me in touch with Ann's friends from the Bruin Mountaineers.

The debt of gratitude that I owe to him, and the countless people who have kept all of these memories and stories alive on SuperTopo (and YCA, too), as well as all of the folks who have been so generous with their time in speaking with me and guiding me to others who knew my birth parents, is immeasurable. For someone who spent the better part of 40 years believing the most she would ever know about her origin was what was God-given, its, well, indescribable.

On the one hand, my head is spinning with questions, and on the other, I feel like I'm treading on sacred ground.

All of this being said, thank you for allowing me to share the stories of my birth parents and me, and please consider sharing your memories...you never know whose lives they will touch, or the magic they may bestow...

Think of the statistical PROBABILITIES!

Mike Bolte

Trad climber
Planet Earth
May 5, 2012 - 08:08pm PT
Wow! incredible story, though there is quite a sad aspect to it...

Jon Beck

Trad climber
May 5, 2012 - 08:38pm PT
Thanks for sharing the story, it made my day

Mountain climber
the ANTI-fresno
May 5, 2012 - 08:38pm PT
Amazing story. Thank you for sharing that.


Trad climber
May 5, 2012 - 08:48pm PT
Just curious, are you a climber?

Great story. Thanks for sharing.

Also looks like you are about 220 yeard from the center from the green. You got that in you? 3 wood over the pond for an eagle putt?


Trad climber
rocky mountain trench
May 5, 2012 - 08:49pm PT
awesome. chalk it up as one of those special posts.

Ice climber
Chula Vista, CA
May 5, 2012 - 08:52pm PT
Very nice trip report. I'm happy for you.

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - May 5, 2012 - 09:31pm PT
Hey Prod,

Woods are for sissies! I'll take my irons any day over woods, unless we're talking about my driver off the tee. (Pat, if you're reading this, I know you're shaking your head -- I still have my 3 iron in my bag.)

Am I a climber? Well, technically, not yet. :D I started climbing indoors a few years ago for no particular reason, but the ceilings were never high enough.

Adrenaline junkie? Definitely. (Genetically speaking, I doubt I had a choice, but at least now I have an excuse.) I think if I was going to start climbing, I'd want to have my skis strapped to my back so I could fly screaming back down the mountain.

That being said, I think it's going to be hard not to at least give it a try!

Trad climber
Hodad surfing the galactic plane
May 5, 2012 - 09:41pm PT
Fascinating story, glad that you got the nerve up to investigate and then share it here with us!

May 5, 2012 - 09:46pm PT
thanks for posting up!



wow... awesome story.

May 5, 2012 - 10:11pm PT
Like a Greek myth. Welcome back to the fold.

If you ever start another thread I'll know to have a look, but the title of this one is the kind that might get overlooked by those that try to stick to climbing, and they could miss this amazing story.

May 5, 2012 - 11:05pm PT
did you get an inheritance for the patent on the Dolt Cart? ;-)
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
May 6, 2012 - 12:00am PT
Thank you for a sad and happy story.

I hope you are able to acquire some things of or made by your father, as keepsakes, and perhaps establish contact with that side of your family.

Another example of this sort of thing is at http://www.supertopo.com/climbers-forum/192446/looking-for-DARYL-HATTENS-friends-im-his-daughter

Social climber
Butterfly Town
May 6, 2012 - 01:06am PT
What a great post! While I have been honored to read much of this before in your emails to me, I applaud your courage in overcoming your shyness and making your story more widely known.

Three weeks ago, I had no idea that you even existed! Nor would I have EVER guessed that there was ANY POSSIBILITY that EITHER Sheila Ann Schaeffer or Bill Dolt Feuerer had a child!

It was an EXTREMELY SMALL POSSIBILITY that I even posted the UCLA “Traffic Diversion” story on the Taco since I was trying to focus on my early climbing at Stoney Point. But having the slides to scan, I did post a brief version of that event as a kind of afterthought. What if I hadn’t bothered to do so? Would our connection have ever been made?

Once you wrote me your story about Sheila Ann, I knew I could help since the connections between the Bruin Mountaineers, though loose, remained. Those ties are now tightening and broadening, thanks to you! You told me that you thought Sheila Ann would have wanted her and you to be a catalyst to bring the Bruin Mountaineers closer together, and that certainly has been the case, and that will inexorably continue, thanks to your willingness to transcribe the articles in the “Occasional Miseries.” What are the chances that anyone would even have copies of those mimeographed issues after 45 years? VERY SMALL POSSIBILITIES since my copies are the only ones to have emerged so far!

And once you told me that Bill Dolt Feuerer was your birth father, my world expanded even further. I had no idea that your father, Bill Amborn, or Bob Kamps had been Bruin Mountaineers!

We, Bruins, have you to thank, first for providing the motivation for me to even look for those “Miseries” issues. Having found them, thank you for your willingness to transcribe them. I had completely forgotten that I’d written TRs about my climbs on Half Dome, El Cap, Sentinel Rock, and more, so because of you, I have refreshed views of some of my climbs that I can now share with those here on the Taco. And if a Bruin Mountaineer FB page should appear, it will be because you reached out to me and to so many other former Bruins in your quest to learn more about your birth mother.

It is often said, “The gift is in the giving” and “Whatever comes around, goes around.” We have both given and received much from this journey, and I’m certain that many more people will continue to be enriched by what began as your quest.

MH: I have already offered her one of the DoltPegs that Dolt gave me to take up the Nose with Lauria on our 8th ascent back in ‘67!


May 6, 2012 - 01:11am PT
The Taco never ceases to amaze....


Trad climber
In transit...
May 6, 2012 - 01:15am PT
I am so grateful you overcame your shyness to post here. Thank you for your story. My mother was adopted and i know a little of what it feels like to long to know your origins. Im happy for you and hope that more information comes your way.
john hansen

May 6, 2012 - 01:25am PT
what nature said,, pretty cool'

Kind of amazing, thru ST , Nature , Boodawg , Nohea and I went fishing one time,,, fishy, fishy,,,

Boodawg some how intersects with many peoples lives. Great story.


Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
May 6, 2012 - 01:25am PT
What a wonderful story to add to the growing list of old friends reunited and
children learning about their fathers on the Taco! Not only did you find who
your parents were, but you discovered their tribe as well. Welcome!

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
May 6, 2012 - 02:04am PT
But, you look so, well, normal! Well told and don't be shy, it's the intardnet.
And where does Kevin Bacon fit into all of this? ;-)

Gym climber
Berkeley, CA
May 6, 2012 - 02:21am PT
Thanks for sharing! My dad was adopted, and I think he knows nothing of his birth family. I often wondered when I was growing up, and I've grown to accept not knowing.
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