Claude Suhl, The Duke of Earl and 1962


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Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Topic Author's Original Post - Jan 7, 2010 - 05:15pm PT
Claude Suhl, The Duke of Earl and 1962

I’m pretty sure it was the spring of 1962 but then again it could have been the fall. Anyhow, the court records, if they have been unsealed will verify the story.

It was a classic morning in Camp 4 when all the usual characters were trying to decipher a game plan for the day’s activities. Climb, beach it, play with the chicks, scrounge for some food or just play it as it happens. No hang-ups with analysis paralysis and having to psyche up for a climb.

Seemed like a good morning to explore, cruise around the Valley and “look” at existing routes and new possibilities. Lots of possibilities back then. Hell, we might even go climbing in the afternoon.

Calderwood had his old VW, there was a large group of us, so we all crammed into his little Bug. There was Rich Calderwood, Mort Hempel, Claude Suhl, myself and others I can’t remember. Perhaps Amborn, Beck, Foott, Kor, Sacherer????? Anyhow it was packed, jammed to the max. After a spell of climbing in and out at every stop it seemed more logical to stay outside and ride on the bumper and top. Seeing this little VW flying down the Valley below El Cap with a bunch of clowns hanging on for dear life must have been an inspiration for the later, open coach cattle-wagon idea of the Curry Company?

Now Mort is a wonderful musician with a beautiful voice and after a spell of warming up he was busting out the sounds at full volume. Once we got through the Joen Baez repertoire, it was time for some new tunes. One of our favourite songs at the time was “Duke of Earl” by Gene Chandler. Mort would sing lead and the rest of us would back him up with a deeper “Duke, Duke, Duke ,Duke of Earl.” I have to tell you it was beautiful. Calderwood, the only one inside the car was keeping the beat with his horn. Meanwhile we are blasting down the road, serenading the walls and having a grand old time

Duke,Duke,Duke, Duke of Earl…………………

We even got into our own rendition and started singing, “Beep,Beep Beep the Horn”, with Calderwood taking the lead.

In reality, it was a fairly productive excursion as with our combined experience of routes climbed we could discuss many of the existing climbs and the endless possibilities that still existed. Climbers were not so reluctant to share knowledge back then and we picked out a number of possible new routes.

Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl………………….

Well as with any road trip things don’t always flow the way you anticipated. We had circled the Valley from Camp 4 to El Cap, to the Cathedral Rock arena and along the South side of the Valley with many stops and were heading to the Bishop Terrace area. While opposite the Ahwahnee Meadow a ranger truck with red lights flashing and siren blasting pulled us over. Well at least it was easy to just jump off the VW and we didn’t have to crawl out. I mean, that many guys piled into a wee car like that certainly would have been some type of violation.

Duke,Duke, Duke,Duke of Earl………………………..

Out steps this chunky little ranger in full colors and he is pissed off. Well, nobody could be that upset over a wee infraction of the vehicle code. The guy must be having some major personal problems, maybe his wife left him for a climber or another lady or whatever. Anyhow he is reading us the riot act and we are feeling pretty humble, contrite, looking down at the ground and avoiding eye contact. It was hard to look sad and not break into uproarious laugher. I can’t remember if Kor was there because it would be hilarious to think of Kor looking down at the ground because it would be so far away.

Well, things were calming down, the ranger vented his original build of steam and we were almost down to talking levels when Suhl casually says,”fu#k you ranger, you fat little piece of sh#t, what’s your name? Porky Pig?”

Well, that kind of got the ranger ranting and raving again and things were not looking too good for quietly sliding on back to the relative tranquility of Camp 4. No, our ranger buddy had to call for backup and when the backup got there they had to call for more backups. Now Claude is in full form and he is ranting and raving in a mode only a true Vulgarian could appreciate. We had spent enough time with Gran, Craft , Suhl and the boys from the East but this was an exceptional manifestation of their true talents. How one person could get so many rangers so upset in so little time was truly remarkable. East meets West I guess?

Duke,Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl
As I Walk Through This World
Nothing Can Stop the Duke of Earl

Before too many rangers gather, Suhl runs into the center of the Meadow and hides but continues his incantations about rangers, NPS, law and the rights of man and just about anything else, with appropriate tidbits of profanity thrown in to keep it all in perspective. Soon the Meadow is literally surrounded by rangers. Rangers on foot, on horseback and with numerous patrol vehicles as backup in case he should make a bold and dashing exit. As the circle narrows, Suhl’s tirades get louder and louder. Alas , with such a show of power it had to end, and he was dragged out in handcuffs to a cheering crowd.

A little time in jail, a meeting with the good judge Geno Ottonello, who almost became my father-in-law 5 years later, and Claude was kicked out of the Valley for a year. Rumor has it he was back in the talus behind Camp 4 within 24 hours.

Cause I’m the Duke of Earl
So Yeah, Yeah,Yeah, Yeah, Yeah


Trad climber
Hagerman, ID
Jan 7, 2010 - 05:56pm PT
Guido: Great story! I could envision the happy drive around the valley.

Loved the "Duke of Earl" and the strange variations we could work up on it BITD.

I used to climb with one of those assetive easterners like Suhl. Great to have around when some arsehole needed confronting. We westerners would grin and shuffle our feet, while Mike verbally ripped on those that needed ripping on. He backed them down and wisely, never chose a cop to rip on.

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Jan 7, 2010 - 06:17pm PT
Yay, Guido!!!!!

I couldn't stop laughing, the pictures in my mind of
el rangero's going after Claude!!!!!

Trad climber
Hagerman, ID
Jan 7, 2010 - 10:56pm PT
The old climbers home nurses say: "they love it and you Guido."

"This is one of the best stories any of us have seen on the Taco"!

Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
Jan 7, 2010 - 11:50pm PT
Bravo, hero's of yesterday!
Dick Erb

June Lake, CA
Jan 8, 2010 - 12:15am PT
Joe, Great to here that one again and in greater detail as well. It reminds me that climbing was not the only thing that delighted me about climbing, back in the days of my well spent youth.

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Jan 8, 2010 - 12:37am PT
What a sweet tale Guido!

Yes indeed, things were rad in the valley in the mid-late 70's, and we got away with a lot. I didn't know that you were quite so sick in the early 60's!
I certainly had some inappropriate rides around the valley, but I never ended up in the meadow surrounded by THE MAN!!

Trad climber
san diego
Jan 8, 2010 - 01:08pm PT
Great story Guido!

Brings back memories of the Vulgarian Digest, East/West rivalry(good natured ie.pull-up contest etc.)...golden times!

Never could understand where the rangers were coming from...puzzled me. You would think they would identify with our love for the Yose, and have a similar connection with nature and a mutual respect. Rather than a disdain for us and our ways. OH WELL!

Would like to here some more stories!!

Thanks, Trip~

EDIT: The Duke of Earl...RULES!! Hahaha!
Eric Beck

Sport climber
Bishop, California
Jan 8, 2010 - 01:19pm PT
While I was not there, wish I had been. Last I heard, quite a while ago, Claude was teaching math at Columbia.

Trad climber
Mountain View, CA
Jan 8, 2010 - 01:56pm PT
Great story! Reminds me of a similar VW incident from years past.....

My friend and I were climbing at J-Tree one winter back when it was free camping. We didn't want to lose our campsite so decided to walk to all our climbs and leave the car as our claim to a site.

We were out somewhere and found a huge pile of old, rusted cans. I carry a bunch of plastic bags for picking up trash at the crags so we loaded them up and started the long trudge back to camp. A few minutes later along came a fellow climber in his VW bug with a sunroof. We flagged him down and he let us stand on the floorboards and hold on to the sunroof for a ride back to camp.

It was just our luck that we passed a ranger in his cruiser, who seeing us standing on the floorboards going 30+mph, was not pleased. He pulled us over and started to give us the drill when I pipep up that we needed the ride because we found all these old, rusted cans and were having trouble lugging them back to camp.

We showed the ranger our huge haul of cans and he decided to let us go!



Trad climber
Corrales, New Mexico
Jan 8, 2010 - 02:13pm PT
Nice job Bruce!
On the other hand, my kids and I hauled 5 giant trashbags out of the gorge at Great Falls VA, to a grateful ranger who was amazed at our hard work on behalf of "the people."
Next visit, the same exact ranger wouldn't give us free parking.
I asked for a $5 parking pass for 5 giant bags of garbage!!!
I feckin' hate the man sometimes......

Oops, It's me, survival. I posted under Buggs avatar...whatever.

Jan 8, 2010 - 04:16pm PT
Claude performed a poetry slam at the 'Gunks visitor center this fall, and in early September just passed I saw him heading down the Carriage Road, off to do a climb. Still has a gleam in his eye.
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Jan 9, 2010 - 01:02am PT
Never could understand where the rangers were coming from...puzzled me. You would think they would identify with our love for the Yeos, and have a similar connection with nature and a mutual respect.
It doesn't sound like Claude and friends' shenanigans had very much to do with a connection with nature or the park, mutual respect, or love for the "Yeos". More like some adolescent male hooligans having a hell of a time, making loud noise, behaving stupidly. It's a great story, and I've probably done similar things - but such behaviour doesn't belong in a place like Yosemite.

Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Jan 9, 2010 - 04:06am PT
and I wonder why I can't OB camp no more. ;)

LOL!!!! hahahaha

Trad climber
san diego
Jan 9, 2010 - 05:24am PT

I understand your point!

I was recalling the general, longstanding atmosphere/relationship between the two groups. It just brought back a very specific moment of enlightenment/revelation I had(initial visit)that there was some animosity/deep seated feelings of distrust etc. between the two.

I suppose I was somewhat of a romantic idealist of sorts, being that my initial relationships with the outdoors and climbing originated with the Sierra Club.(and Boy Scouts).

One of my best friends was Yose. ranger/climber P. Cowen...I guess I was expecting them to all be mre like him.

I am not naive...I can understand how things evolved.

But there just seemed to be a anal retentive/inflexible, holier then tho attitude that prevailed amongst a percentage of the Rangers(see Buggs^^^for example of anal retentive ranger).
Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
Jan 9, 2010 - 09:19am PT
Really enjoyed that, Guido.
And how great that the hero Claude is still climbing.

plus ca change...

Jan 9, 2010 - 02:57pm PT
Brings back memories of the Vulgarian Digest

The Bow-hunting Way of Knowledge

Trad climber
British Columbia
Jan 9, 2010 - 03:28pm PT
Love these old stories of the way things used to be ...

Free spirited behavior like this is almost a capital offense nowadays
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Jan 9, 2010 - 03:31pm PT
No, you just have to be more discreet. If you insist on loud attention-getting behaviour in public places, the result is predictable. But it's surprising what you can do if you put a little thought into it.

Though the deep-seated need of many adolescent males to "act out" through loud and often drunken behaviour in public is nothing new, even when transposed to climbers and the Valley.

I really did like Joe's story - reminds me of the gang of us cruising around the loop road in John's VW van, sliding door open, hollering abuse at tourists on the turkey tour. But that was the 1970s, and those times are gone.

Trad climber
san diego
Jan 9, 2010 - 03:41pm PT
"but such behavior doesn't belong in a place like Yosemite"

Perhaps we should be required to remove our shoes at the entrance gate!
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