I am considering a late October trek through the boundary area between Ticino (Switzerland) and Verbano Cusio Ossola (Italy), including the Valle Cravariola. This takes be along several bivouacs and rifugi on both sides of the border. Because camping may be difficult and of unclear legality (although I suspect bans would not be enforced much in this time and place), I am considering to sleep in mountain huts, passing along such huts or bivouacs as Campolatte, Sironi, Bonasson in Italy (operated by the Clup Alpino Italiano (CAI)) and Grossalp in Switzerland (operated by the Unione Ticinese Operai Escursionisti (UTOE)). The Grossalp hut is open year-round, but how is it for the Italian huts? I do not expect any huts to be staffed in late October, but is there still an open part where I can sleep? If yes, do I need a key (Wikipedia mentions the Alpenvereinsschlüssel)?
I seem to remember being told that Italian huts will have an emergency shelter room as well.
In any case, this emergency shelter may not be meant for people who stay there over night during a planned trip: it is meant for proper emergencies.
I've seen signs saying "to stay while not staffed, please contact (phone number of someone from the local CAI section)". So for planning a tour, I'd email or call the respective section of the CAI about the possibility to stay in/at/near the hut for one night.
One slightly off-topic info: I had the impression that in the Italian alps huts that do not belong to the Alpine Club and in consequence are not bound by the Alpine Club prices (= also: need to operate economically on their own) are more frequent than in other parts of the Alps (Austria, Germany, Slovenia).
In the region managed by CAI Vigezzo, there are actually many bivaccos (unstaffed shelters) that are open year round. As most of those were not on either the Swiss topographic map, or Openstreetmap, or online sources I consulted prior to departure, I will list them here. During my hike 2019-10-25/28, I passed by:
Alpe Croso Fuori, OPEN, basic
Basic shelter. I didn't sleep here, it has a platform where one can put mattresses and sleeping bags, and a stove, but not much fuel. Open 2019-10-25.
Location: 46.2083°N, 8.49247°E
Bivacco Campolatte, OPEN, primitive
Very primitive. Sleeps four. Visitor needs to bring everything but a tent. Rarely visited; guest book lists about four entries per year. Also known as Baitin dul Peurat. As of 2019-11-06, wrongly mapped on Openstreetmap, but I will fix this. I slept here 2019-10-25/26.
Location: 46.2174°N, 8.44887°E.
Rifugio Bonasson, main hut CLOSED, winter room OPEN and primitive
Main hut was closed 2019-10-16. Access requires a key, which is not available late October (I asked). Winter room is available but primitive. I did not sleep here.
Location: 46.2336°N, 8.45341°E
Bivacco Alpe Cavegna, OPEN, partially equipped
Very close to Rifugio Bonasson (15 minute walk). I did not sleep here. Appears to have gas, gas stove, and mattresses. Open on 2019-10-26.
Location: 46.2375°N, 8.45047°E
Alpe Bosa, OPEN, well equipped
Well equipped self-service hut with beds, mattresses, cutlery, gas stove, gas, etc. Open 2019-10-26. I did not sleep here.
Location: 46.2583°N, 8.41836°E
Alpe Corto Rossa, OPEN, well equipped
Impressively well-equipped hut: beds, mattresses, gas stove with gas, firewood oven with firewood, candles, pots, pans. I slept here 2019-10-26/27.
Location: 46.2682°N, 8.41413°E
In a pinch, one can also spend the night in one of the other (semi-)abandoned alps, but some are very dirty. There is a Massenlager at the campsite in Cané, Cimalmotto, Valle di Campo. The Capanna Grossalp SAC above Bosco/Gurin was still staffed 2019-10-27/28, although I was the only guest to have spent the night there for over two weeks. It didn't seem to have a winter room, but from this hut it's only a 30 minute walk down to Bosco/Gurin which has hostels and hotels.
I've also seen hiking signs pointing to other shelters that I didn't pass by and therefore couldn't inspect. Those are: Bivacco Ragozzo, Capanna Alpe Arena (Switzerland), Bivacco Alpe Cortevecchio. I would expect those to be comparable to the other bivaccos that I did pass by.
All over the Alps the huts and bivouacs can be divided into:
- available to anyone when unstaffed (some require key and registration, some not)
- available only in emergency when unstaffed
- open all year round
You have to check each one individually.
For huts on the Swiss side, Swiss Alpine Club website provides all the information: https://www.sac-cas.ch/en/huts-and-tours/sac-route-portal/