Surviving Shooting Sunset Falls
The town boomed for all of them…
for lumber, mining, and for the building of the
Great American Railroad.
Pickett neg. 1005
Men came from all over the world. Most came for the jobs but one or two came just to see the sights and in 1926 there was one crazy Aussie named Al Faucett who came, saw, and decided to ride the rapids of the River where I live.
Al Faucett came to Washington State to lumberjack and to run his own small logging company. In 1926 Fox Films wanted a daredevil to shoot[def.] Sunset Falls in a canoe for a movie scene where an Indian was supposed to go over the falls in his canoe. They offered a $1500 prize to the man who did it.
Al Faucett was the only one to volunteer but he didn’t think that the canoe that Fox was willing to provide was adequate to the stunt so he made his own with metal lining and extra padding, and a tarp to cover the top and keep the canoe from drowning. Unfortunately it wasn’t the look that Fox had in mind...
He shot the falls anyway.
Pickett neg. 3211
3000 people shelled out $1 each to watch the big event. Al Faucett is the first man on record to survive shooting There have been a few kayakers who have done it since but there is no public access now[ref.].
It gave him a taste for living the wild life and he had to do it again. And again. And again...
Because he felt that there still wasn't enough safety features, Al Faucett made a second canoe from a hollowed out log that he banded together with steel for his next adventure when he shot the Eagle Falls.
Pickett neg. 4038
You may be surprised to hear that while he continued to shoot other falls up and down the upper west coast, he died in 1949 (in his 70’s) of cancer. He never made it to the Niagara Falls, which was his ultimate ambition.
[def.]: To "shoot the falls" means to intentionally ride the river down the falls. It can be within or without a boat or barrel.
[ref.]: Wikipedia's Sunset Falls
To read more about Al Faucett check out the book,"First Descents: In Search of Wild Rivers", By Richard Bangs, John Yost, Yvon Chounard, and Royal Robbins
You might also like to check out this Youtube of Sam Grafton shooting Sunset Falls:
Thanks @vcelier for helping me find it!
Lee Pickett was a photographer who came west to open a photography studio and soon contracted with The Great Northern Railway Company to record the building of the Great American Railroad. He stuck around our area afterwards and took thousands of photos (that have survived) between 1909 thru 1949, making a record of a heap of history that we otherwise wouldn’t have access to. I so appreciate following the guys who follow their passion when it is far from the easiest thing to do!
If you want to read more about Lee Pickett or see more of his photos, check out the University of Washington online archives. Just be certain that you have the whole day free and you turn off your phone first. If you’re a big fan of old photos like I am you will likely want to stay a while!