Nearly 60,000 tickets will be sold to the 2013 Burning Man Festival, and as large a community as that represents, it’s still a tiny minority of the planet’s population. The fact is, most people will never choose to spend a hot, dusty week in Black Rock City. And, for many of them, it’s the right option.
The desert is a harsh environment. For people with breathing problems, the dust alone is reason enough to think twice about attending. Even a clear day in the Black Rock Desert is filled with minute dust particles. (Actually, the “dust” is made up of highly alkaline gypsum chips). You can see them in many flash photographs taken on what otherwise appears to be a clear night (see the example below). On top of the dust problem, there’s also the altitude. The Black Rock Desert is about 4,000 feet above sea level, which could exacerbate breathing problems if you’re not accustomed to the somewhat rarefied air.
There are people with asthma who attend Burning Man, but it’s perfectly understandable why some asthma sufferers might choose to avoid it. While the Burning Man website indicates that, with adequate preparation, asthmatics can do fine at the festival, it also advises:
“…if you have a history of complications with asthma, especially if they have resulted in hospitalization and/or intubation, please talk to your doctor before deciding to come to the playa.”
Breathing difficulties is one of the most common ailments requiring treatment at Burning Man’s medical facilities. That’s what makes gear like dust masks so critical to your comfort.
Another common medical problem on the playa is eye irritation. The best preventative is a good pair of goggles; but if you suffer from persistently dry eyes, you’ll want to bring plenty of eye lubricants or artificial tears. The medical facilities are kept busy irrigating dry and irritated eyes throughout the week.
There’s also the weather itself and its potential to affect your health. A couple of years ago, the air turned quite chilly. A person in the camp next to us didn’t have adequate warm clothing and suffered a serious case of hypothermia. The obvious solution is to pack the right clothes – always keeping in mind that nights can be quite cold on the playa while days are usually very hot.
Far and away, the highest percentage of medical problems treated at Burning Man are minor cuts and scrapes – nothing that might not happen to you away from the playa. But the desert has its own unique physical challenges. Preparation is the critical ingredient for withstanding the vagaries of the Black Rock Desert and assuring yourself a great Burn.