A 36-year-old Durango man survived driving off Wolf Creek Pass, rolling 700 feet down a steep mountainside and spending a night injured in the backcountry before being rescued last week.
“I didn’t know if I was going to make it out of there,” said William Hardaway. “It was scary.”
Hardaway said he was helping a friend move June 23 from Littleton to Vernon, Arizona. He was driving a 1993 Dodge Ram pickup truck that was hauling a side-by-side utility-terrain vehicle, a Jeep and tool boxes on a gooseneck trailer.
Around milepost 162 on U.S. Highway 160, where Wolf Creek Pass descends toward Pagosa Springs and makes several tight curves, Hardaway, headed west, crossed into the eastbound lane and went off the road.
The vehicle struck a tree, separated from the trailer, plunged 700 feet down the mountainside and ended up in a creek.
“The car started filling up with water,” Hardaway said. “It was cold, and I was afraid I’d get hypothermia.”
He said he suffered multiple injuries from the crash, including compound fractures, injuries to his spine and a concussion.
Hardaway was able to climb out of the truck, and he tried several times to make his way up to the road, but with his injuries, was unable to climb the mountainside.
Hardaway said he spent the night outside. He said to keep warm, he kept moving his extremities, and was able to get some sleep on the side of the creek.
Colorado State Patrol Trooper Josh Lewis said skid marks were noticed going off Wolf Creek Pass on Wednesday, and as authorities investigated further, Hardaway’s trailer was spotted.
“That’s when we started looking for other vehicles,” he said.
Lewis said authorities began their search around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, and Hardaway was found about 20 minutes later injured and dehydrated, but still alive.
“He was taken to the hospital in Pagosa Springs and eventually to Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs,” Lewis said.
Hardaway said he spent two days in the intensive care unit, and was discharged Friday. He is now back in Durango, where he has lived since 2016.
Hardaway said he is walking around, and slowly recovering, but he still has a long road ahead. He said Monday he is sore, his hands are numb and he suffered trauma to the head.
Lewis said the cause of the crash remains under investigation. Hardaway believes he went off the road because of a mechanical issue with the clutch on his truck.
But all things considered, he considers himself lucky to be among the few people who has survived a crash off Wolf Creek Pass.
“Everyone is so blown away, saying, ‘I can’t believe you survived,’” he said. “It was so crazy.”
The section of the highway Hardaway went off is notorious for crashes, so much so that the Colorado Department of Transportation launched a “Beware the Wolf” campaign to alert drivers of the dangers.
Most crashes, CDOT has said, are the result of truck drivers driving too fast.
In the past few years, CDOT has improved striping and lane configuration, constructed a concrete barrier near the scenic overlook pull off, and installed additional signs about the dangers.
Lisa Schwantes, spokeswoman for CDOT, did not immediately have data on the number of crashes and fatalities on Wolf Creek Pass. But, she said it’s essential drivers maintain a low speed coming down the highway.
“We’ve made it safer, but it’s very easy to increase your speed because you feel like you have so much room,” she said. “We really stress to drivers, particularly commercial big rig drivers, they need to maintain that low speed as they travel down the pass.”