A bloodied woman with head injuries was rescued from Mt Ruapehu in the early hours of Friday morning.
Faced with darkness, chilly conditions and strong winds, rescuers considered her fortunate to have been found and taken to safety.
The alarm was raised at 6pm Thursday when a friend contacted police. The woman, a tourist, had been attempting to walk to the summit of the mountain, but had become lost and disoriented. Her location, direction of travel and plans were unknown.
The Taupo Greenlea rescue helicopter was dispatched along with a St John paramedic, and volunteers from Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation began searching high probability areas on the mountain.
Due to the fading light and the vast area to cover, a second local helicopter pilot, Steve Ashcroft, was also dispatched to the area to assist in the search.
The helicopters had to battle 50-plus km/h winds and deteriorating weather. Fortunately, the missing woman was able to make a 111 call and was able to provide a GPS reading of her location, which was near the Whangaehu Stream.
Attempts by the helicopters to reach the location were unsuccessful due to high winds, so the alpine rescue volunteers were dropped off in the Whangaehu Stream to begin walking upstream towards the GPS location.
The team trekked up the mountain for approximately five hours and, at around 2:30am, found the woman asleep in her sleeping bag at about 7000 feet, lying precariously close to the edge of a large waterfall.
She was cold, tired and had head and facial injuries, with blood over her head and face.
It appears at some point in the late afternoon she slipped and fell on ice and snow losing consciousness. She was unaware what had happened to her and where all the blood had come from. She may have fallen a second time in her dazed state.
She was manoeuvred to the nearby Whangaehu alpine hut where they all bedded down for the night.
Just after first light the Greenlea helicopter took the injured woman and her rescuers to safety. She was taken to Rotorua hospital with multiple serious injuries.
A helicopter spokesman said given the environment in which she was found it was extremely fortunate that she did not come to more harm.
Police expressed their thanks to the search team, saying: "The experience, skill and knowledge of all those involved was instrumental in locating this missing, injured tourist."
Police reminded people venturing into the back country to ensure they had left their travel plans with a friend, and to carry the correct equipment including extra food and water, a shelter, Personal Locater Beacon and a torch.