Scaling the side of a mountain isn’t an activity most would describe as “comforting.” Especially when the only things preventing a free fall are your own hands, feet and a harness. But some people crave the challenge that Wyoming rock climbing presents. And for them, the climb is freeing – even addicting. Cara Liberatore, a Wyoming mountain guide, mother and cancer survivor, lives for those moments on the cliff side. “Climbing, for me, is the only thing in life that requires all of my physical, mental and spiritual energy simultaneously,” she explains.
Watching Cara maneuver up a mountain and listening to her gush about the landscape, you’d assume she was born and bred in Wyoming. And you’d be wrong. She first visited the state as a teenager and the love affair was instantaneous. “I remember flying into the Tetons and looking down and my heart sang and my soul felt free and I took a deep breath and I said, ‘This is home,’” she reflects. But it wasn’t until later in life that she’d make the official move – a move that almost didn’t happen.
While Cara was planning her relocation to Wyoming, her mother was receiving a breast cancer diagnosis. Not wanting to stall her daughter’s Teton dreams, her mother held off on sharing the news until Cara had settled in the west and committed to her passion. As the cancer progressed and eventually took her mother’s life, Cara felt her climbing hobby evolve from a form of exercise to a kind of therapy. In the years to come, she’d turn to this healing outlet again and again as she received, battled and defeated her own breast cancer diagnosis.
By now, Cara has scaled and explored all over Grand Teton National Park, leaving her story behind in the form of sweat, blood and sometimes tears. She’s witnessed the brilliance of a sunrise over the mountains more times than many have been awake to watch the day break. She’s guided hundreds of others through the varying levels of climbing opportunities throughout the park, helping first-time rock climbers discover a new passion and challenging those with more experience to confront their own mental and physical limits.
In a life full of challenges, the mountains have been Cara’s rock – both literally and metaphorically. Today, when she’s not making a living as a guide, she’s sharing her love for Wyoming’s therapeutic landscape with her own daughter and constantly finding new ways to maneuver life’s peaks and valleys. “I’d sum up my Wyoming experience to be a life to date that is full of adventure, exploration and opportunities to let my spirit and soul be free and wild,” she says, noting that these adventures are the “WY” that keep her climbing.
Ready to take on your own challenge? Check out rock climbing opportunities throughout the state. Then, tell us: What’s your WY? And share your story with the hashtag #ThatsWY.