Social Navigation

Burning Man attendees struggle to escape as around 70,000 remain stuck in Black Rock City


Burning Man attendees are still struggling to escape from Black Rock City as around 70,000 remain stuck on muddy camp grounds following two days of heavy rainfall and one reported death.

Attendees of the countercultural music and arts festival were first advised to “shelter in place” and conserve food and water on Friday, according to notices from organizers. All inbound and outbound traffic was halted and will remain so until further notice.

The reported death at the festival site is under investigation, local authorities said Saturday. It’s not clear what the cause of death was at this time.

DJ and Producer Diplo said he hitched a ride out of Black Rock City in the back of a pick up truck with comedian Chris Rock on Saturday. The musician documented his journey out of Black Rock City to Washington D.C., where he says he had a concert on Saturday night.

“I legit walked the side of the road for hours with my thumb out cuz i have a show in dc tonight and didnt want to let yall down,” he captioned a post on his Instagram.

Videos posted to his Instagram story show Diplo walking through mud before hitchhiking to Gerlach and Reno to make a flight to D.C.

“I just got done DJ’ing for three hours, after walking f*****g for four hours out of the desert and taking a flight, mud still on my face,” he said in a video posted to his Instagram story Saturday night.

NBC News has reached out to representatives for Diplo and Chris Rock.

Former Principal Deputy Solicitor General of the United States Neal Katyal also said he hiked through mud to get out of Black Rock City on Saturday.

“It was an incredibly harrowing 6 mile hike at midnight through heavy and slippery mud, but I got safely out of Burning Man,” Katyal wrote on Twitter. “Never been before and it was fantastic (with brilliant art and fabulous music)…except the ending.”

Katyal also posted some tips to others at Black Rock City who are trying to escape.

“No one should try this unless in good shape and part of a group,” he warned. “It was quite hard, and will get harder if/when it rains more. Talk your friends out of the hike unless you really think they can do it safely. There are treacherous places where it is worse than walking on ice.”

Another festival attendee, 22-year-old Kevin Schultz, was scheduled to leave Burning Man Friday so he could make his friend’s wedding in Houston, Texas. (Note: Schultz is the cousin of Liz Kreutz, one of the authors of this article.)

What was supposed to be a few hours on a bus turned into a 20-hour escape from the desert.

He left prior to the festival’s lockdown, when the weather was still clear, and his bus ended up being stuck in the mud as the storm rolled in.

“We ended up being sheltered on the bus, you know, pretty much like indefinitely as we wait for the ground and the area to dry out,” Schultz told NBC News.

As what was thought to be just a short downpour of rain turned into a prolonged storm, Schultz and others were forced to spend the night on the bus. There was “no plan” to get back to camp or to the city, he said.

Going back to Burning Man seemed like a bad idea, Schultz decided, as he considered ongoing issues with sanitation and resource scarcity. So he and six other people decided to take a risk — tie trash bags around their feet and walk to town when they woke up Saturday morning.

“It’s slippery, the most slippery thing ever, where one moment it’s like…it’s suction, cupping your foot and the next moment you’re sliding all about,” Schultz said. “So it’s super unpredictable but we were able to find, like, walk along with the little dry ridges and whatnot for the majority of the distance.”

The group made it two miles out to the paved road, where they were able to hitchhike into the nearby town of Gerlach thanks to the kindness of a woman driving by in a farm truck. Schultz missed the wedding but made it home to California, where he says he is warm, safe and able to shower.

As of Sunday morning, organizers say the roads are still “too wet and muddy” to officially be opened, and are encouraging attendees to continue sheltering in place, conserving food, water and fuel.

Attendees are also discouraged from driving in Black Rock City.

Intermittent thunderstorms are expected to impact the area on Sunday, along with possible gusty winds.

Plans to burn the man are still in place for Sunday night, weather permitting, organizers said.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.