Climber Story: Michelle Bandoja

June 15, 2022 3 min read

Climber Story: Michelle Bandoja

To start, tell us a little bit about yourself

My name is Michelle. I'm 31, currently living in Riverside, CA. I work for health and human services (HHS for short). I'm a photographer. I was vegetarian for 16 years before becoming vegan. I grew up camping and hiking all over southern California and Sequoia National Park. So naturally climbing found its way to me.

How did you start climbing?

My very good friend told me he found this really cool sport and he thought I would love it. He took me to Hangar 18 in Upland and put me on top rope so I could get a feel for it. He knew I was afraid of heights, but told me I could stop at any time. I got maybe 6 feet up before freaking out and demanding he bring me down: I hated it. How could anyone like climbing?!

He was crazy, but I guess I was too because I gave it another chance a few months later. I got a little higher this time — maybe 10 feet. I still wasn't sure if I liked it, but I gave it one more chance another month later. This time I made it all the way to the top. I got a membership that same day and never looked back. That was 7, soon to be 8 years ago!

What impact has climbing had on your life?

It changed everything and possibly saved my life. I was stuck in a deep state of depression and self hate. I wasn't happy with who I was and where I was in life. After I started climbing, there was a drastic shift in the way I saw myself. Each time I sent a climb there was this sense of accomplishment and pride. My body and mind stopped waging war and began working together to solve the problem.

I don't know where I would be or if I would even be here if it wasn't for climbing. It's my therapy and my happy place. It's given me my life back and I can never thank it enough.

What are some other things you do that you find most fulfilling?

Getting to the top of a hard hike. Taking photos and videos of my friends climbing. Being part of groups that are making a difference (@trailmothers.la and @escapedclo).

If you could tell the world one thing, what would it be?

Never stop trying no matter what it is that you are working on or trying to do. You might fail or you might succeed, but you'll never know if you never try.

Favorite thing about Dynamite Starfish?

I love all your shirts! They speak to my soul. Especially the "Climb. (And pet all the dogs)" shirt. I love dogs and can't resist showing them some love.

Is there something you're working on that you'd like to tell our community about? We love a good story.

I'm currently working on doing some local trail/crag clean and climb events.


You can find Michelle on Instagram at @michelle.b_ventures.

Want to get to know more of the climbers in the amazing Dynamite Starfish community? Check out our archive of Climber Stories here.

We hope you have enjoyed these sneak peeks into climbers' lives. We're on a mission to share diverse stories about rock climbing. Let's push the boundaries of who we know as climbers. Let's use our energy and passion for the outdoors to love our environment and inspire one another.

Have someone you think we should feature? Send us a message and let us know!

Until next time!

Dynamite Starfish
Dynamite Starfish


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