Our chief porter was a guy called Samuel (Sam'well) from the African Walking Company. Samuel admits to being 52, has been working on the mountain for 33 years and his father was a porter before him (there's speculation his father or grandfather was Hans Meyer's porter) and when you first meet him you think he has the easiest job in the world compared to the porters who carried the heavy loads.
Then you realise that he has his finger on everything that is going on - he's orchestrating everything so that when you arrive you have the best camp site positions. Food it ready and hot. Everyone is fit and well and happy. And you all know exactly what is going on, what you have to do and can relax knowing you're being looked after.
And Samuel MADE my trip. He undertook the additional 3 hour round trip to Uhuru Peak when he could easily have said "no, it's too late". He carried my bag for me to make sure I made it. He scree ran me down the mountain when I developed a headache and started feeling sick (I had been on the go for 10 and a half hours by this point!). He made sure that I, and everyone else in our party, were safe and well.
Other members of our party have similar stories about Justin, Akundo, Richard and Nicholas, the other guides in our group and how they went out of their way to personally help them reach the summit. And from ordinary porters to the helping porters to the chef, to the assistant to the assistant to the assistant head porter - all of our crew were fantastic and surpassed our expectations.
You will most likely totally underestimate how tough this challenge is. But that's no reason not to do it! All of our party - 11 of us - made it to the top of the mountain, safe and well, if not a "little" tired. 8 of us chose to go to Uhuru Peak - and made it.
Try and take time to appreciate what you are doing - it's easy to get so caught up in the "doing" that you forget to really savour the moment.
Don't necessarily expect a great feeling of elation when you reach the top - you'll just as likely just feel totally mentally and physically exhausted! The good feelings come later ...
If camping like we did on the Rongai Route, my advice to the girls is to take plenty of Pampers Baby Wipes, panty pads, baby powder and something we didn't take - a nail brush.
Drink the recommended 3 litres of water a day - you get the other 2 litres from the food they carefully prepare. Do everything they tell you to, drink and eat everything to give your body fuel and you will dramatically lessen the possibility of getting AMS and increase the possibility of getting to the top. I took Diamox and other than tingly fingers, toes, knees (!) and face - all experienced at separate times - had no ill effects. Others didn't take Diamox and still made it to the top.
If you find a winning formula for stopping blisters (mine was silk liners under hiking socks and tons of talc), don't forget and put on only one pair of socks just because you're tired - you risk ruining the rest of your trip (ask Emily!).
On the final ascent I had on two pairs of gloves and wore two thermal tops, two fleeces, my snowboarding jacket and waterproof overjacket, a snood and woolley hat with my jacket hood on top - on the bottom I had two pairs of thermal bottoms, hiking trousers and waterproof trousers; I needed it. Take layers, it gets very cold.
Make sure your waterbottles are watertight - as temperatures drop, the crew will fill them with hot water for you and you can use them as hot water bottles in your sleeping bag.
Don't rely on handwarmers, they stop working once temperatures drop - and it gets very cold in the early hours up on Kibo, so make sure you bring properly insulated gloves wsith silk liners!
I was able to drink from my water bottle all the way up the mountain - it was nestled on the outside of my pack in a SIGG insulating sleeve - everyone's drinking bladder froze, so it's worth trying a similar trick (mine was a Camelbak plastic bottle). Dioralyte and cordial kept the sugar levels up!
Don't underestimate the effect of altitude on your breathing - this trek is very tough and my resting heart rate at Mawenzi Tarn was 145bpm! But two of our party suffer from asthma and still reached the peak ... so it can be done.
Take the lightest and warmest sleeping bag that you can and a good quality thick thermarest - you need to sleep! Take ear plugs too - the porters wake up at 4.45am to get your breakfast ready for 6am.
Make sure your toenails are short for the descent - it is so painful otherwise.
Take snacks that you can share. People very quickly became fed up with their own meusli bars - jelly babies and yoghurt covered raisins are much easier to share!
Expect to get a sore nose (vaseline is a good thing to take) and ALWAYS apply your sun screen - you will get burnt even when you think it's cold, the sun in unrelenting.
Diamox makes champagne taste flat and metallic.
The best thing that Exodus have done is include the "special room" - a toilet tent This means that you can avoid the trip to the long drop toilets in the middle of the night and use your own group "facilities" in relative comfort! It means an extra porter is required but ... well worth it. Well done to whoever thought of that and thank you, Exodus, it made such a difference!!
The Exodus kit bags are rather small (my sleeping mat and sleeping bag filled it)!
Kenya Airways was a good airline, enough leg room, decent movies and decent enough food.
The experience at the transit desk at Nairobi is ... interesting. So get your boarding pass for the flight to Kilimanjaro at Heathrow if you can; the locals push in, the Americans complain about that loudly and the Brits queue quietly (and then have to run like hell for their flight because they were too polite!).
The food at the Kilimanjaro Mountain Resort was the worst I have ever had anywhere in the world. They served us burnt pea soup - and showed no understanding that it was inedible despite the fact you could smell it was burnt and everyone rejected it. The food we had on the mountain, served every day by our chef John, was amazing - he can make tasty, amazing hot food on the mountain, why can't they make decent food in the hotel??? Other than that, the hotel was very good, so please Exodus, sort the hotel food out!
Your tour operator rep will reconfirm your return flights when you're up the mountain - don't listen to Precision Air at Kilimanjaro Int Airport when they turn you away saying you didn't confirm your flights and you're not booked on - Exodus always confirm!!
Take pens and sweets for the kids and be prepared to say "Jambo" to everyone!
The half day safari to Arusha National Park was a good way to end the trek, with plenty of giraffes, monkeys, baboons and water buffalo and you get dropped straight to the airport with your kit bag.
I wish I'd booked a week in Zanzibar after the trek, rather than return straight home.
Expect to be exhausted when you return home.