Burning Man revellers start ‘gruelling’ exodus from muddy desert

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Washington: Thousands of people who spent days stranded at the Burning Man festival with limited food, water and overflowing toilets began trying to leave on Monday as the return of clear skies provided an opening to flee the muddy desert outpost.

But the mass exodus resulted in massive lines, vehicles getting stuck and some party goers becoming increasingly frustrated by the way organisers handled the disastrous weather conditions.

Freak rains have turned Burning Man’s usually dusty landscape into ankle deep mud.Credit: Michael Smith

New York resident Ebony Bowden and her friends were among the 70,000 revellers who were forced to shelter in place after mass storms turned the much-loved festival into a muddy morass at the weekend, shutting down roads leading in and out of the makeshift city in Nevada.

But she said while attendees were used to the “physically and mentally gruelling experience” of Burning Man, which requires people to be self-reliant, “the way this year’s event fell apart with no contingency plan as people started to run out of food and water was reprehensible.”

“We had to ration our camp’s food and water to make sure we wouldn’t starve to death and we lived in fear of the porta potties, which became dangerously close to overflowing,” said Bowden, the founder of Eden Communications and a former Age journalist.

“We were also told buses weren’t running when they were and a friend who ran out of medication had to drive off the playa (the desert plains in Nevada where the event is held) and took the risk of being told he wasn’t allowed to leave.

Blue skies return to Black Rock City after heavy rain turned the desert playground into a mud pit.Credit: Lila Neiswanger

“The Burning Man Organisation should be held fully accountable for sitting on their hands and putting 70,000 people’s lives in danger.”

Driving restrictions were officially lifted on Monday afternoon as sunny and dry conditions over Nevada gave people a chance to leave in their vehicles.

However, some took their chances earlier by walking through the sludge, including acclaimed DJ Diplo and comedian Chris Rock, who walked for miles until a fan let them hitch a ride.

“Some kid recognised me on the road and said, ‘Hey, I’ll give you a ride for the next two miles.’ And of course, we gladly took it.” Diplo said, posting images on his social media account.

Meanwhile, many other revellers opted to stay hoping that the lines to get our were shorter by Tuesday, or to take part in the much anticipated conclusion of the event: the ceremonial burning of a 23-metre effigy.

“This is going to be one of those years when you look back and say, oh I was there in 2023,” festival goer Bobby White told CNN.

“It is kind of a bonding thing, and that’s kinda the whole thing about Burning Man: it’s the journey not the destination – and this is definitely part of the journey.”

Burning Man is a counterculture festival that began in 1986 and attracts tens of thousands of people each year, from ordinary partygoers and emerging artists, DJs and performers, to celebrities and influencers.

It has, however, faced criticism over the increasing number of cashed up people using petrol-guzzling RV and generators, and for the environmental impact of creating a temporary city for tens of thousands of people in the Nevada desert.

This year was no different, when a small group of climate protesters caused gridlock by blocking the road with a trailer and accused attendees of a privileged mindset.

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