Cabane de l'A Neuve
With 153 buildings of various sizes and shapes throughout the Swiss Alps, from the bleakest to the new high-tech and more welcoming, the Swiss Alpine Club mountain huts are very popular walking destinations. I myself have enjoyed visiting a great many over the years but am rather reluctant to recommend them in this book. Over the last few years a pattern has begun to emerge and mountain huts are tending to get bigger and bigger in order to accommodate more and more people in an ever more comfortable setting. Opinions differ as to the merits of this tendency. Whatever the case, old-style mountain huts where the quality of the welcome is considered more important than the number of people that can be accommodated, are harder and harder to find. And, ultimately, this is the kind of hut that we loners appreciate.
The Cabane de l’A Neuve is unquestionably an old-style mountain hut. First opened in 1927, its stone walls seem resolutely unalterable. The hut sits on a spectacular rocky spur and looks out over the peaceful Ferret valley. Opposite it rises Mont Dolent on the summit of which meet the Swiss, French and Italian borders. As if to match up to the remarkable setting, the keepers of this eagle's nest have always been known for their strength of character. And even its beauty has long ceased to be a secret, this mountain hut is still one of my favorites.
From the village of La Fouly, cross the small bridge over the Dranse de Ferret which runs down along the road, and walk to and then through the Glaciers campsite. A signs shows the way up towards the hut and a walking time of 3½ hours. The path leads up through a fairy tale pine forest. It's delightful to feel your steps cushioned by the soft layer of moss and pine needles, like a Finnish forest track relocated in the Valais Alps! Leaving the forest behind you, the path now heads up between bushes over particularly arid ground wisely named Le Désert [1660 m, 15 min].
The bushes become smaller and sparser and then the path gets steeper and climbs a series of hairpins and draws nearer to the Reuse de l'A Âmone stream and a rocky outcrop [approx. 1975 m, 1h20min]. Chains hang alongside the path to help you clamber up the smooth slabs. Alternatively, a path to the left can be used to avoid climbing the rock. However, because the path lies on the loose moraine of the A Neuve glacier, its usability varies from year to year.
At the top of the rocky outcrop, the path crosses the stream just above the waterfall. It can be difficult to cross at the beginning of the summer if there is still a lot of snow around. The small footbridge is taken away in the winter and sometimes means walkers have to cross on the snow bridge above the water. This is potentially dangerous and it is best to turn back if you are not sure. This was the case for me on one occasion when the walking season started early after a winter with little snow. I still much enjoyed the outing and was entirely captivated by the terrible roars made by the avalanches as they pounded down the mountainside opposite. Mont Dolent is "only" 3828 meters high but its North face is as impressive as that of many of the Alpine four-thousanders.
One the stream crossed, the path starts up the long but easy climb over the grassy Essettes slopes, a haven for marmots and blueberry lovers. Soon you will be able to make out the flag on the cliff next to the hut, and the hut itself. Towards the end of the climb, the grassy slopes give way to sterile rocky scree, with possibly some remaining patches of snow. A little below the hut, towards 2700 m, the path heads left away from the hut before turning back right to head for the head. There are two options for the very final portion, either the "directissima" an easy climb up a rock crevice (hands needed, chains) or a more round trip along a path through the boulders.
The pretty graffiti foretells the friendly welcome that typically awaits you at the Cabane de l’A Neuve [2735 m, 3½ hours]. Maybe you will be lucky enough to spot a bearded vulture taking flight from the cliffs below the Pointes des Six Niers. It's great to enjoy a long break on the panoramic terrace because, as indicated on the sign on the wall of the hut, the descent back down to La Fouly is short and only takes about 2 hours. Indeed, it's a steep, steady descent with no flat time-consuming portions. Walking poles can be useful for the lower part of the descent where the risk of slipping is increased due to the dry, unstable moraine ground.
Every time I have visited the Cabane de l’A Neuve, I have had a pleasant surprise: an abundance of blueberries, sighting the bearded vultures or watching the avalanches tearing down from Mont Dolent. I hope you will enjoy it as much as me!