ALTHOUGH IT WAS THE END OF MAY, and the daytime temperature on the Kiabab Plateau had been almost perfect, it had dropped to nearly freezing by dawn. Not a surprise at that elevation at that time of year.

I reluctantly crawled out from under the covers and got out my stove to heat the van. The stove can burn either butane or propane. Butane resists burning at low temperatures, so I hooked up the propane, fired it up and, ahhhhhh… warmth.

By the time I pulled on my pants and shoes and checked email it was almost too warm in the van. I turned the stove off. As often happens in cold weather, frost had formed on the propane bottle. Compressed gases cool as they expand. Water vapor in the air condenses on the cold bottle, then freezes.

After a bit of routine morning puttering around I wanted more heat. I turned on the stove, the piezo igniter sparked, but all I got was a tiny blue flame at one of the burner holes. I waited, but the other holes didn’t light. I turned the stove off and back on, with the same result. 

Hmmm… Maybe the propane bottle was too empty to put out enough gas pressure. I switched bottles. Still the one wimpy flame. Then no flame at all. Um, that wasn’t normal.

Had things frozen in the hose? I removed it and installed a butane can instead. Spark but no flame. Well, at least the hose wasn’t the problem. That meant it was something in the regulator/temperature control. Did something freeze in there, or did it just happen to break in some other way? Expansion and contraction of metal bits until one of them failed? (What’s inside a pressure regulator, anyway?) Was it new stove time?

I had places to go and things to do, so I packed the stove away and hit the road. I’d figure it out later. I hoped it was just an issue with the cold. Or, hmmm, maybe elevation had played a part in it. Insufficient fuel-air ratio at 7,000+ feet? But it had burned fine at first.

Later in the day, hungry for lunch, I set up the stove and… it was totally back to normal, and has been ever since. So I can only conclude moisture got into the regulator/temperature control and froze up, clogging gas flow. 

Have any of you had a similar experience?