Daredevil Al Faussett pushes the modern limits of whitewater boating
By Whit Deschner
August 3, 2004
Since Niagara was too far away, Faussett announced he would run 216-foot
Snoqualmie Falls. But Puget Power, which owned the land adjoining the falls,
refused to let the adventurer run, for fear of a -lawsuit.
Faussett resolved to run one of the obscure falls upstream from Snoqualmie,
but he was foiled again, this time by the King County sheriff, who figured
he was saving Faussett's life by stopping him.
The next year Faussett announced he would go elsewhere to run his
waterfalls. He went to Spokane to run Spokane Falls. The city officials were
not sure whose jurisdiction it was to stop Faussett. The buck was passed to
the chief of police, who concluded that it was Faussett's decision whether
or not he wanted to kill himself. However, Faussett was not allowed to
On June 3, 1927, more than half of Spokane's population crammed along the
banks to watch Faussett get swept over the falls. As Faussett climbed in his
775-pound boat, similar to the one used for Eagle Falls, the crowd crammed
Then the river rushed the craft into the seventy-five-foot staircase
cataract-a torrent of awesome power. The boat dropped over the first step,
somersaulting in the uproar. It then free-fell only to be sucked into a
whirlpool, tossed like confetti in a tornado. There it remained spinning
around for over twenty minutes until it finally swept close enough to shore
to allow several men to pull it to safety. Faussett staggered from the boat
with blood dripping down his face and was hurried into an ambulance.
"They've got whiskers on 'em (the falls) an' they sure can give a feller an
awful tossing," he told the Spokesman Review. He had received a slight
concussion along with numerous cuts and bruises about his head. Several
hours later the boat worked free of its moorings and went over the lower
section of the falls, where it was smashed into pieces and never seen again.
Faussett quit for the season. One bump on the head was enough.
But next year he was back, this time in Oregon, to jump forty-foot Oregon
City Falls. Faussett's new boat was thirty feet long, essentially a
glorified barrel. His plan was to paddle up to the falls, align the boat bow
first, duck inside, and close the hatch.
It was the last day of March. A crowd of 10,000 was on hand, and as Faussett
and boat reached the brink the crowd was aware that something was
drastically wrong. Faussett fought to line the boat up, but gusting winds
and a powerful current spun the boat sideways. And that's how it went over.
Faussett had failed to get the hatch closed. The boat landed upside down,
then disappeared into the froth for over a minute before coming into view.
In the swift current below the falls it took the rescue team
six -minutes to reach the boat. When they finally righted it, a wet Faussett
When the Oregonian asked Faussett about the ride, he replied, "The canoe is
the finest craft on the water. Without it I couldn't have made it. We hit
the middle of the falls just right, but the strong wind and current simply
made me powerless to shoot the rapids as I had planned. I had no time to
close the trapdoor above me so I just hung on. Air under the upturned boat
made it possible for me to breathe.
"Going through those rapids sounded like a million cowbells to me. You can't
imagine the queer sensation of it. How many times the boat turned over I
don't know. About twice, I thought, but others said many times. What I do
when I'm buried in water like that I'm not accountable for. I simply hang
on. What else is there to do?"
The daredevil's next exploit was to shoot the 186-foot Silver Creek Falls.
However, the group of businessmen who owned the property surrounding the
falls refused to let Faussett carry out his plans. In order to run the drop,
Faussett first had to buy it along with the adjoining hundred acres.
On July 1, 5,000 people crowded into the area to watch the plunge. Dirt
roads were jammed with Model Ts. Some of the people never made it to the
event, owing to strong drink and traffic.
Faussett's new boat looked like an obese rugby ball. It was made with a
wooden skeleton, filled with thirty-six car inner tubes, and covered with
orange canvas. It weighed 180 pounds. In order to avoid bouncing off the
rock ledge on the way down, Faussett built a ramp protruding twelve feet out
past the brink.
Faussett and his boat arched 186 feet into the pool below. Unfortunately,
the boat belly flopped instead of landing nose first as planned.
"There wasn't a scared bone in his body," Irv said. But when he crashed into
the pool below there were several broken ones; a few ribs, one wrist, both
ankles were sprained, and he couldn't move his bowels for four days.
Faussett still wanted to run Niagara, but the logistics of getting there
with a boat were too complicated. So Faussett announced he would run
Shoshone Falls on the Snake River in Idaho. It was 212 feet high-45 feet
higher than Niagara.
The date was July 28, 1929, and the water level on the Snake was low. To
make the ride feasible, the Idaho Power Company resolved to open the gates
of a diversion dam upstream half an hour before the ride.
Again Faussett used the canvas boat that he had used on Silver Creek. The
crowd of 5,000 would be warned with a series of bombs that he was ready to
leap-four at fifteen minutes, three at ten minutes, and two at five minutes
before the stunt. One bomb would give alarm that Faussett was floating to
the brink. A salvo of bombs was to be fired indicating that Faussett was
injured and on his way to the hospital.
To deflect the boat from rocks jutting out in the middle of the falls, a
wire was attached upstream to a large boulder, then threaded through a
three-inch-diameter ring on the boat. The other end of the wire would be
held below by someone on the rescue team.
After making adjustments on his boat, Faussett was ready. A single bomb was
fired as he was set adrift in the river. Unfortunately the water released
from the dam didn't give the boat enough draw, and twice it hung up on the
bottom, the last time right on the brink. Two men waded out to the boat and
gave it a shove over the falls.
He dropped 212 feet-the highest falls ever jumped.
Faussett emerged from his boat with only a broken right hand. A salvo of
bombs was fired off. For the event, Faussett received $733.
The extra forty-five feet didn't mean much to the daredevil, though. "Dad
still wanted to run Niagara. It was the falls that had a name to it. Things
didn't work out and he never got back there. Even when Dad was in his
sixties [twenty-five years later] he still had plans for Niagara."
In February 1948, the man who once described himself as "feeling more at
home in a logging camp than in a crowd" "went west." He died of cancer.
"That's not what really killed him," Irv said. "He couldn't stand the
regimentation of being in a rest home. It was the first time in his life
someone told him what to do: when to turn off the light, when to go to bed.
It got him down and he just couldn't take it."
A segment of the obituary in a Seattle newspaper read, "If there are any
rivers where Al Faussett is now, he'll be hunting for a waterfall over which
Irv said of his father, "He lived three lives to most men's one.
He got a lot of fun out of life. Funny thing was he never knew how
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