Born in the heart of dairy farming country, Elliot Anderson (better known as “El”), was raised hunting, trapping and fishing in the north woods of Wisconsin. El’s father David imparted romantic tales of Robert Services’ writings into his childhood. Sharing legends of gold, mountain men, and remnants from his own Alaskan days, David created a magnetic pull towards the life of an outdoorsman that El would never shake. Now, El has been drawn to the Iditarod; one of the most revered races in the world. In this Filson Life article, learn more about the man, El, who appears alongside his crew in the November Filson catalog.
Words and revisions by Elliot Anderson, Shivani Kakde and Kimberly White.
El left home to guide antelope, mule deer, and elk hunters in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, then went on to be a sled dog guide on Togwotee Pass in the Absaroka Mountains alongside Iditarod musher Billy Snodgrass. For El, traveling by dog sled evoked the Alaskan stories that his father had passed down to him, a simpler time. He followed the winter to Juneau, Alaska and guided dog sledding trips for Alaska Icefield Expeditions in the summer months. Twenty people and three hundred dogs lived twelve miles up the frozen river of the Mendenhall glacier giving dog sled tours. The only way in or out of this icy landscape was by helicopter.
The following winter in 2012, El began living his Alaskan dream by working for four-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser at Happy Trails Kennel. El raised and trained twenty sled dog puppies from birth to two years old with the goal of racing the 2014 Iditarod with them. El was right where he needed to be to pursue his dream of racing the Iditarod. The Iditarod is a 1000 mile dog-sled race from Anchorage to Nome, a harrowing but awe-inspiring journey.
The 2014 race was the hardest Iditarod on record, with little to no snow on hundreds of miles of trail. Denali, the tallest mountain in North America, is part of the Alaska Range, and that is just one of the ranges mushers cross during the race. Following the Alaska Range, mushers descend the steep and treacherous Dalzell Gorge, which is historically a dangerous part of the trail in a good snow year. With little to no snow, these parts of the trail are horribly rough, giving mushers little hope of slowing or stopping their teams down the formidable drops through jagged ice, stumps, and rocks. Many teams ended their race after the gorge due to injuries and equipment failure. El and the pups continued through and made it 900 miles before their race ended. During a legendary epic storm El’s team scratched from the race when the pups decided that the blizzard marked their finish line.
After the 2014 Iditarod, El needed a break from the year-round winter, so he and his partner, Shivani, traveled to New Zealand and worked on farms and ranches with cattle dogs instead. El couldn’t shake working with dogs and the following winter returned to Wyoming to run dogs and tours for Billy Snodgrass. Whether it was at the ranch, the glacier, or even the race, much of El’s learning had been “sink or swim”, leaving him with his own stories to learn from and share. Early morning coffee and swapping Iditarod stories around the cabin stove became a daily ritual.
Being at Billy’s evoked the nostalgia of an Alaskan dream unrealized. The realization that he wasn’t done with racing and he definitely was not done with Alaska couldn’t have been more apparent after the 2015 Iditarod finished. Shortly thereafter, El decided to sign up for the 2016 Iditarod. You can follow his journey this winter as he and his dogs brave the Alaskan wilderness once more.