VANCOUVER -- A Vancouver Island hiker fell 20 metres on Mount Arrowsmith Saturday afternoon, suffering a serious head wound in the process, but the outcome could have been even worse if not for the work of the island's only search and rescue "hoist" team.

The hiker, a man in his 50s, was one of three Nanaimo men who were climbing the mountain Saturday. After he fell, he skidded farther down the mountain, onto a snowfield, according to search and rescue crews.

"It was a significant fall," said Paul Berry, leader of Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue. "He sustained multiple and significant injuries."

Berry said the man was too badly injured to be carried out - a rescue that could have taken as many as 16 hours.

That's where the hoist team came in.

Volunteers from Alberni Valley Search and Rescue were the first to reach the injured man, but it was the hoist team - made up of searchers from Campbell River and Comox Valley teams - that performed the extraction.

Lifting injured or lost hikers using hoists is considered a rescue of last resort that’s necessary because of Vancouver Island's terrain. Berry believes such rescues occurred as many as eight times on the island last year.

"It is absolutely what these teams train for, to be able to effect a rescue in difficult conditions," Berry said of Saturday's rescue.

Those difficult conditions included some rough weather that made flying a challenge on Saturday, he said.

"The storm cells were moving in and out, so they were very cautious to look for holes in the clouds," Berry said.

The hoist team was able to get the man down from the mountain and transferred to an air ambulance. He was taken to hospital in Vancouver for advanced care. 

With files from CTV Vancouver Island's Gord Kurbis